Shell Canada has incorporated Earth Observation data into its Sustainable Development Report, demonstrating the potential of satellites to provide a global and cost-effective way to measure objectively the sustainability of business activities.
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Land Use/Land Cover monitoring
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Companies that aim to create wealth while also contributing to the long-term quality of life and respect for the environment regularly issue environmental audits of their Corporate Sustainable Development (CSD) activities and report on the 'triple bottom line' of economic, social and environmental impacts. In order to quantify sustainability, accurate and timely information on the state of the environment is needed, which Earth Observation (EO) from space can provide.
Under the ESA project, Hatfield Consultants, an environmental consultancy firm based in Canada, led a team working with Shell Canada and Albian Sands Energy to provide EO-based geo-information to support environmental management and monitoring related to the exploitation of their Athabasca oil sands located in the north of the province of Alberta. Occupying some 141 000 sq km, the Athabasca oil sands are estimated to be the second largest known oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia.
EO provides objective coverage across both space and time, EO images show the world through a wide-enough frame so that complete large-scale phenomena can be observed with great accuracy. Satellites also remain in place for long periods, making them able to highlight environmental changes occurring gradually. The focus of the satellite data used in this project was to help quantify habitat change in various ways and to understand how a habitat may be influenced by the oil sand operations.
According to Shell, the images allowed them to monitor vegetation, track land use changes, capture roads, power lines and other installations that can fragment habitat. They also provide them with the capability to establish baseline environmental information before developing new areas.
As global oil reserves dwindle, the cost of extracting Canada's oil sands has become feasible: one million barrels of oil are currently extracted daily and this figure has the potential to double in the next five to seven years. However this extraction should be carried out while managing the impact on the Alberta landscape.
Based on EO image analysis, mine activity and vegetation habitat change information was provided for the 2006 Shell Canada Sustainable Development Report, which was developed in accordance with the 2006 guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The GRI provides a framework for sustainability reporting, which includes a set of reporting guidelines to enable reporting on economic, environmental, and social performance.