Environmental assessment analysts research and analyze environmental data and information for the preparation of environmental assessment reports in accordance with federal (i.e., Canadian Environmental Assessment Act) and provincial environmental assessment legislation. Environmental assessment analysts evaluate proposed projects and provide factual information for effective planning and decision making that promotes public awareness, environmental protection and management, and sustainable development.
Imagine you are standing in the quiet shade of an undisturbed forested area in the northern part of the province. Until a few years ago, there wasn’t much interest in this area, but the discovery of a large natural gas reserve lying underneath the forest has the potential to change all that. An energy corporation is proposing to tap this natural gas field and build an underground pipeline to carry the natural gas to southern markets. You are an environmental assessment analyst and you and your team are visiting the site as part of an environmental assessment on the proposed project.
Your job is to ensure the project’s potential environmental effects are identified, assessed, and mitigated, and that accurate information is provided to decision-makers to decide whether the project should proceed. As the lead environmental assessment analyst for this project, you must decide what kind of assessment the project needs and what provincial, federal, and other environmental legislation applies. Since the pipeline is a large-scale project, federal funds and regulator approvals are required, and because the area is very sensitive to human disturbance, it has been decided that a comprehensive study level of assessment is required.
A comprehensive study is an intensive environmental assessment under federal environmental assessment legislation designed to identify, assess, and mitigate adverse environmental effects and evaluate the significance of the residual effects of a proposed development. You and your team will spend months gathering data and information from the site and reviewing case studies from similar developments. You will also spend time consulting with area residents and members of a local Aboriginal community to gather their comments on the pipeline, as well as posting assessment information on the Internet for additional feedback from the public.
Once you have all the required information, you will prepare an environmental assessment report that outlines the potential environmental consequences of the development and provides conclusions on the significance of the residual effects on the environment. If the project is approved, you may also be involved in following up on the assessment, for example, monitoring during pipeline construction to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented and effective and the residual effects remain insignificant.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental assessment analyst:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places environmental assessment analysts can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental assessment analyst, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental assessment analyst is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental assessment analyst, the following programs are most applicable:
Environmental assessment analysts have a variety of backgrounds in addition to those noted above. Consider taking other courses for hands-on knowledge in areas such as GIS operation and field sampling. It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental assessment analyst, though professional status is recommended. Most environmental assessment analysts have a professional designation, for example, Professional Biologist, and are registered through their provincial associations.
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“It was a combination of luck and ambition that I found a job in the environmental assessment industry.” In 1971, Mel Falk had just completed his master’s in zoology from the University of Manitoba. “There were few jobs for people like myself at the time on the prairies.” But Mel took a chance and walked into the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office in Winnipeg. To his surprise, they were hiring people with a master’s in natural sciences. They needed scientists to assess the environmental impact of the then-proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline.
Before he knew it, Mel was working in the Northwest Territories as an environmental assessment analyst. “Our job was to study fish, and it was up to us to determine what kinds of fish were there, where they travelled to, and how the pipeline could affect them.” Mel went on to work for Parks Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada, where he refined his environmental assessment skills. More than 30 years later, Mel is now the president of his own company, Falk Environmental Inc., based in Winnipeg. The company provides professional environmental assessment and environmental education services to the public and private sectors.
Mel usually works seven days a week, with three to five projects going at a time. His private-sector clients include engineering and environmental consulting companies and a variety of industries, everything from transportation, communication, to heritage buildings and sewage treatment plants. “An environmental assessor is a jack of all trades and needs to be knowledgeable in a variety of disciplines and current in environmental assessment practices.” Mel spends most of his time at one of four desks, each representing a different project.
Whether he’s working at his desk in downtown Winnipeg or downtown Victoria, or his home office in suburban Winnipeg or Sidney, BC, most of his time is spent in front of a computer. His tasks include reading environmental publications, reviewing specifications, and writing and reviewing environmental assessment reports. When Mel is at a project site, he might be collecting soil, vegetation, and water samples or taking photos of the project in its various stages. According to Mel, one of the most important on-site tasks is speaking to potentially affected people such as landowners, neighbours, Aboriginal people, resource users, and harvesters. “For an environmental assessor, speaking with the people will yield far more information about the project location and potential effects than taking samples.” But sometimes taking the time to speak with people isn’t possible. Some clients have their own agenda.
The company may want the environmental assessment completed as quickly as possible in order to obtain a licence or approval so it can move on to the project’s construction. “There have been cases when it is not ethical or is immoral to proceed with a project because the environment may be compromised.” Mel believes the industry is not to blame for this unethical approach, but there needs to be a better understanding of the role of environmental assessments and assessment analysts in the early stages of proposed projects. According to Mel, the solution lies with the implementation of assessment standards and national professional certifications, such as Canadian Certified Environmental Practitioner. “Certification is the only way to ensure the industry can operate properly while the environment and the public are protected.”