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Adaptive management in policy and regulatory regimes: A study of water and wastewater management for shale gas development in Alberta and British Columbia

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Adaptive management (AM) is an iterative resource management process designed to reduce uncertainty by aiming to continually improve environmental outcomes through rigorous up-front planning and modeling, supported by monitoring and evaluation of outcomes. The academic literature asserts that AM is important, and possibly essential in environmental management, while also highlighting implementation challenges that undermine its success. AM is pervasive at both project and regional scales in Canada and the United States. Ninety-one percent of the projects listed on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry invoke AM for one or more environmental issues, and AM is frequently a foundational tenet of regional plans and environmental management policies developed by government agencies. This dissertation uses case study and content analysis methodologies to investigate the prevalence of AM in a sample of 62 publicly available policies covering water and wastewater management for shale gas development in Alberta and British Columbia (B.C.), Canada. Shale gas is an ideal case study given the uncertain environmental and cumulative impacts its development can have in producing regions and watersheds. My findings indicate that AM is present in over half of the policies in the sample, demonstrating that the policies support or recommend an AM approach when mitigating potentially adverse environmental effects. The academic literature also finds that prescriptive administrative law regimes present significant, sometimes insurmountable, barriers for the implementation of AM. I used content analysis to analyze 7050 subsections of legislation with their underlying regulations under the 62 policies. My findings indicate that AM likely cannot be effectively operationalized under the regulatory frameworks associated with the policies in Alberta and B.C. and confirm that there is a significant disconnect between AM as construed in policy and AM that can be feasibly operationalized in the field. I conclude with recommendations for decision-makers to help mitigate risks of regulating under uncertainty. These include supporting mechanisms and incorporation of regulatory models such as outcome-based regulation to increase flexibility necessitated by AM. The results of my study can help inform regulatory approaches designed to mitigate adverse effects arising with industrial development across different sectors (e.g., mining, minerals, energy) as well as regional cumulative effects.
218 pages.
Copyright statement
Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Olewiler, Nancy
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