Aug 252018


2018-07-13   “Estimates of exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition

in Alberta and Saskatchewan” (water and land, nitrogen and sulphur from oil sands)



I  conclude this is a good news story, taking place over 12 years!

Serendipity:   In June 2006 I sat beside a water scientist who told me that the lakes in northern Saskatchewan were dying from acidification – – tar sands emissions.  A top policy advisor in the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority confirmed – yes, that is the case.

I sent the information to you (“The Battles”), and to media.  Our networks sprang into action, including the Council of Canadians and the Sierra Club of Canada.  Elaine Hughes did some great work.

Others pitched in, Saskatchewan and Alberta, with public meetings, letters to Government officials and so on.

The Governments had to do something:   News,  October 10, 2006

EDMONTON (CP) – Alberta and Saskatchewan have begun trying to figure out how to deal with increased pollution drifting over the boundary between them from rapidly expanding oilsands projects.

Changes were made.   It seems to have worked!   The emissions appear to have been sufficiently arrested:

UPDATE (Good news!)

The exceedances are not huge, and perhaps society will smarten up and scrap the oil sands before any significant damage is done.     (I asked Dave Schindler,  internationally renowned water scientist, from the University of Alberta, retired but still working, for his interpretation of the Report.  His full email appears below.)

– – – – – – – – –  –  – – –

  • The scientist, Stan Shewchuk, told his story.
  • The Government official, Murray Bryck, was forthright when asked.
  • Our network circulated the information that “Sask lakes are dying” (June).
  • Citizens organized, work-shopped, were relentless and loud.
  • Government officials, Alberta and Saskatchewan,  re-convened the annual cross-border monitoring meetings (had been stopped) in October, to do something (news report below).

ASIDE:   Still sticks in my craw! – –

Stan Shewchuk, the water expert at the Saskatchewan Research Council who first told me about the acidification of northern Saskatchewan in 2006, retired.  He had baseline data – – his research on the condition of the water in the lakes in northern Saskatchewan began in the early eighties.   He said the water was “pristine” then.

In 2006, I took the acidification story to the media in Saskatchewan.  The Government response was:   research would have to be done, to establish baseline data!

Some time later, I tried to dig up access to Stan’s data and research, but was not successful.

Never mind!   It appears that the steps taken were effective, so today “The exceedances are not huge“.   And I congratulate all the people, inside and outside Government and media, who worked to contain the acidification.   Details, and copies of letters sent are at:

2006-09-12 Water: Response from Govt to “Saskatchewan Lakes dying from tarsands emissions “


Conscientious people, 12 years ago,  could see a disaster coming, and stopped it from happening.   That’s a victory!

But now,   2018-02-27   Canada’s largest integrated energy company has filed an application for a massive new oilsands project defying expectations of slowing growth in the oilsands, Financial Post

– – – – – – – – – –


The tar sands in northern Alberta extend across the border into Saskatchewan, where different geology would require different energy-intensive technology to bring the tar (oil) to the surface.   The tar has to be heated so it will flow.  The uranium/nuclear industry tried hard to make nuclear the energy of choice for the tar sands.   But the economics of nuclear energy convinced citizens of both Saskatchewan and Alberta that nuclear energy would impoverish them,  while a few people got richer.

The last half of “My letter to the Minister” tells some of the involvement at the U of Saskatchewan of the uranium/nuclear industry:

2018-03-19 Does Environment Minister McKenna KNOW that Natural Resources Minister Carr is pushing nuclear energy in the UN climate talks, Bonn Germany, May 2018? My letter to the Minister.

The University of Regina is home to the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC).   They were heavily involved in research to find a way to flow the tar sands on the Sask side of the border which is in different geological formations, and further underground.   A group organized and I accompanied a tour of 5 cities in Saskatchewan of a Panel discussion, because the public was hearing very little.  Nor were they aware about the acidification in the north.  For me, it was additional incentive to stop the building of a nuclear reactor, which would have met the energy demands of the oil corporations when “the lakes (were already) dying”.

Further background:

2010-01-26 Scripps Institute of Oceanography  – – –  Backgrounder Manitoba & Sask Joint Cabinet Meeting, Feb 2

(Aug 2018:  Good news from Dave Schindler:  The exceedances are not huge, and perhaps society will smarten up and scrap the oil sands before any significant damage is done.)

= =  = = = = = =


From: David Schindler
Sent: August 27, 2018
To: Sandra Finley
Subject: Re: re (Recent) Estimates of exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan

Hi Sandra,

This is a good paper.  Aherne and Jeffries are very familiar with critical load calculations, and are co-authors on some of the widely accepted international work that goes back years. Kirk is an Alberta student, and I have co-authored work with her on mercury deposition in snow in the oil sands.  She is an excellent young chemist.

Many of the small lakes in the northern Precambrian part of Sask. are very sensitive to acidification, because there are no calcareous rocks to buffer any incoming acids.  The oil sands are a big source of both sulfur and nitrogen aerosols, the precursors of sulfuric and nitric acids.  Nitrogen oxides are largely from the monster haul trucks.

Because these are aerosols and gases, they travel long distances and are slowly transformed to acids.  In contrast, the emissions of  calcium and other base cations that would neutralize acids are connected with larger, heavier particles in the emissions, which fall out of the atmosphere very close to the sources.  This is a common scenario around mines of different sorts.

The exceedances are not huge, and perhaps society will smarten up and scrap the oil sands before any significant damage is done.

Best wishes,


– – – – – –  – – –

On Mon, Aug 27, 2018, Sandra Finley wrote:   (edited)

Hi Dave,

RE:  Recent,  Estimates of exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan

. . .    QUESTION:  Have these scientists (Estimates of exceedances)   confused “distance” with the quirks of geology?  is the cause-and-effect relationship right?

The Abstract for Estimates of exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan, is at

I made “Comments” on it.

I am on thin ice because I am not a scientist.

As explained in the Comments,  my association with exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition goes back to an FSIN Water Conference in 2006 – – I sat beside SRC scientist Stan Shewchuk who told me “the lakes in northern Saskatchewan are dying”.  He’d been monitoring since the early eighties when they were pristine.

Serendipitously, the next day I met Murray Bryck from the Sask Watershed Authority who was in Saskatoon for a water conference (Sask Partners for blah, blah, blah).  I asked Murray about what Stan had said.   Murray’s reply was “oh yes, that’s right.  We know it.”  The conversation proceeded,  I subsequently went to the media.

The CCME in its annual report mentioned that some areas of northern Sask were past critical load limits for acidification.   I believe I have mentioned this to you in past correspondence.

I was expecting this 2018 report to have something further to what was known by 2006.

You will see in the Comments that I went down a rabbit hole, trying to determine what happened to the NWRI (National Water Research Institute).  It no longer exists as far as I can tell, although one is led to it – – the links go to dead end.   I wondered why, if this is about acidification in Saskatchewan, and the well-funded Hydrology Centre is at the U of S,  why aren’t they joined in the research?

Back to the ABSTRACT:

Base cation deposition was shown to be sufficiently high in the region to have a neutralizing effect on acidifying deposition, and the use of the aircraft and precipitation observation-based corrections to base cation deposition resulted in reasonable agreement with snowpack data collected in the oil sands area. However, critical load exceedances calculated using both observations and observation-corrected deposition suggest that the neutralization effect is limited in spatial extent, decreasing rapidly with distance from emissions sources, due to the rapid deposition of emitted primary dust particles as a function of their size. We strongly recommend the use of observation-based correction of model-simulated deposition in estimating critical load exceedances, in future work.

(Don’t laugh too hard when I use scientific terms and information inappropriately!  Sorry.)

(INSERT:  through Dave Schindler’s input,  I understand that the correct terminology where I have used ” sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide” is “sulfur and nitrogen”)

the neutralization effect is limited in spatial extent, decreasing rapidly with distance from emissions sources, due to the rapid deposition of emitted primary dust particles as a function of their size.

To me,  the scientists who put out this recent research are saying

  • The acidification “in the region”  is neutralized by ionization.
  • Neutralization decreases with distance from source of the sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide.  (Which is to say:  the further downwind, the greater the exceedances because there is no neutralizing effect, due to the rapid deposition of emitted primary dust particles as a function of their size.)

The “dust particles” and “Fugitive dust particles”, the “acidifying deposition” are, as I understand,  synonymous with sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.

  • However,  what I understood from Stan Shewchuk,  would indicate that the correlation to distance from source is not the cause-and-effect relationship.   The cause-and-effect relationship is geology.    (map) of the Canadian Shield  – – Prevailing winds are from the northwest.  The winds carry the emissions over exposed crust of the Earth – – the rock of the Canadian Shield, rock lake bottoms.  Stan explained that the neutralization happens  where you have soil, plant growth, on land and lake bottoms.  The map shows that the border of the Shield diagonals across Sask, and turns north coincident with the Alberta-Sask border.   There’s a loop to the south of McMurray that is not Canadian Shield.  The prevailing winds don’t blow to the north of McMurray.   Based on what I understood from Stan,  maybe these scientists have confused “distance” with the quirks of geology?

I thought to track down one of the scientists who participated in the Research, to speak with.   But I could be all wrong in my interpretations.

I will be appreciative if an independent scientist might be able to respond to the question:   have these scientists got the right cause-and-effect relationship?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =

THE FOLLOWING IS FOR MY OWN PURPOSE.  SUGGEST YOU SKIP IT!   THE RABBIT HOLE   I went down, trying to figure out what happened to Canada’s National Water Research Institute (the NWRI), with whom I dealt in past.

Who is involved in the creation of this new (July 2018) report on  exceedances of critical loads for acidifying deposition?     (Don’t get me wrong;  I’m very happy they’re working on it!  I have some history, going back to 2006.)

I notice scientists from the  Canada Centre for Inland Waters, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Burlington, Canada.

In years past, it was the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) with two centres in all of Canada – – one in Burlington ON, the other in Saskatoon SK.   The NWRI employed almost all of the water scientists in Canada – – more than 300.   What happened to it?

I tried to find the “NWRI” on the web (Aug 2, 2018).   I found   You can tell by the URL that it is not a Government of Canada website.

HOWEVER, it says:

National Water Research Institute (NWRI), by Environment Canada

Main content

The Canadian National Water Research Institute (NWRI) is Canada’s government freshwater research facility. The Institute’s research focuses on water pollution and its impact.


  • The web page is from ETH Zurich
  • The link to “Visit the (NWRI) Website”  takes you to “Server not found”.   I tried web searches (NWRI) from different angles.   Got the same thing – – nothing.

There’s a page titled NWRI  at

You can see from the URL that it’s not a page on an NWRI website.  It’s a page under “organizations” on SDTC website.   SDTC is “funded by the Govt of Canada”.

 Oh I see,

Sustainable Development Technology Canada
Government agency
Image result for sdtc
Sustainable Development Technology Canada is an arm’s-length foundation created by the Government of Canada to fund new clean technologies. Wikipedia
 Oh Lord   – –  I get nervous when I see a Government-funded entity “Coaching companies for success” (from a drop down list on the website).   It’s too often the companies who have a history of “Partnering” with the Government for their own benefit, and a stable of “Communications Specialists” to spin what they’re doing, who get our money.



The citations in the abstract from the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) are all from their centre in Burlington.   The last time I visited the Saskatoon NWRI, they were under serious budget constraints.

The Hydrology Centre at the U of S worked with the NWRI Saskatoon centre (that is no more).

The Centre will coordinate graduate student training, outreach and research; provide shared laboratory and experimental research basin facilities to researchers from the College of Agriculture, Arts and Science, Engineering, and the National Water Research Institute on campus, and develop major funded programs addressing water and environmental change.

Hydrological research opportunities continue to improve at the University of Saskatchewan. The Canada Research Chairs program,  . . .



The only citation in the Abstract that is Saskatchewan based (” . . . acidifying deposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan”)  is:

Technical Resources Branch, Environment Protection Division, Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, Regina, Canada 

 – Regina is the centre of provincial government.  Not known as a centre of science.  I searched for this Technical Resources Branch  (under 4.  at  Couldn’t find them.

Why isn’t the Hydrology Centre at the U of S involved in this research on the acidification of the north?


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