Dam Safety Program

Energy companies use fluid-containment structures, including oil sands tailing ponds, coal tailing ponds, and oil and gas fluid storage ponds, in the development of Alberta’s energy resources. We’re committed to holding industry accountable for the safety of these structures.

In May 2015, we created a Dam Safety Program to ensure the integrity of all fluid-containment structures related to energy resource development in Alberta. Our program ensures that all regulated dams are designed, constructed, operated, maintained, and decommissioned safely, and that owners and the AER are prepared to respond in the unlikely event of an emergency.

What we regulate

Today, we regulate 184 of the approximately 1500 dams in Alberta. AER-regulated dams enclose 119 ponds related to oil sands development (63), coal mining (32), and oil and gas operations (24). Due to topography, multiple dams are sometimes required on a single pond.

How we inspect dams

Our program consists of risk assessments, inspections, and audits of an owner’s dam safety management system (i.e., how they are keeping their dams safe).

We inspect all dams. The frequency of our inspections varies between every 2 to every 10 years depending on the dam’s assessed level of risk (i.e., the severity of consequences if there were a release due to failure and its historical performance), the dam’s size and location, the fluid type, and the associated project.

If we find a dam isn’t meeting our requirements, we will notify the owner and request a response to the noncompliance by a certain date. In the unlikely event of a dam failure, we will assist the owner in coordinating its emergency response.

Dam and Pond Map

Our Dam and Pond Map displays all 119 AER-regulated ponds across the province. The interactive tool allows users to identify the names and locations of ponds and dams, as well as their size, type of fluid stored, related energy sector, operator, associated project, and the Canadian Dam Association's dam consequence classification.

For help with the map, consult the built-in help guide.

Annual inspection and audit results

Program history

In March 2014, the AER assumed responsibility from the Government of Alberta for regulating all containment structures, like dams, for fluid-storage ponds used in the development of Alberta’s energy resources. We’ve since regulated dams according to the Water (Ministerial) Regulation - Part 6 Dam and Canal Safety.

In March 2015, the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta released an audit of Alberta Environment and Parks’ management of the province’s dam safety program. In the report, the Auditor General made recommendations to improve how information is managed and shared with the public.

We accepted all of the recommendations made by the Auditor General. In spring 2015, we launched our inspection program, which included reviewing past inspection data from Alberta Environment and Parks. Inspection guidelines were developed that consider, among other factors, risk and operator history and performance.

Meanwhile, as we were building and implementing our Dam Safety Program, AER investigators were examining what led to the Obed Mountain Mine spill. The spill that occurred in October 2013 contaminated water and damaged the creek bed of a tributary of the Athabasca River. The contaminated water subsequently flowed into the Athabasca River.

The spill led us to ensure our program is robust—so we can catch issues like the ones that led to the Obed spill before they happen.

For more information about the Dam Safety Program, see