Air lake reflection

2019 WBEA
Annual Report

The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) monitors the environment of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) in north-eastern Alberta 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Your independent air quality reporter.

President MESSAGE

As we look back over 2019, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) has made several accomplishments, and the year marked several new beginnings for the WBEA.

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Executive Director MESSAGE

The WBEA is proud to be a multi-stakeholder, consensus-based organization, and we are known as being a leader in state-of-the-art environmental monitoring.

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Who is WBEA?


People are empowered to make informed decisions to ensure a safe and healthy environment.


The WBEA is a multi-stakeholder, consensus-based organization that leads in state-of-the-art environmental monitoring to enable informed decision-making.

Strategic Plan

The WBEA 2017-2021 Strategic Plan captures, in a single document, what the WBEA is about and what it seeks to achieve over the next five years. The plan focuses on four major goals:

  1. Provide state-of-the-art environmental monitoring
  2. Support meaningful stakeholder engagement and strategic partnerships
  3. Recognize traditional knowledge as an important source of wisdom and information
  4. Establish socially and fiscally responsible business practices

All of the WBEA’s 38-member organizations contributed to the planning process. The development of the plan involved reflecting on past years of operation, gathering feedback and perspectives from all participants and setting goals to successfully carry the organization into the future.

Core Values

  • We are scientifically independent.
  • We recognize, respect, and use traditional knowledge.
  • We are transparent and timely in communicating accurate and accessible data.
  • We are dedicated to using best available practices and technology.
  • We support diverse stakeholder participation to achieve consensus-based decisions.

Organizational Structure

The diagram below depicts how the WBEA operates and shows the relationships between the General Members Board, Governance Committee, Technical Working Groups, and the WBEA staff. The General Members Board and Governance Committee provide strategic direction and oversight for the organization. The Technical Committees determine the strategic plans and direction for each of the WBEA’s monitoring programs. The Executive Director provides operational direction for the WBEA staff, engaging science and technical advisors as required, to ensure stewardship to the overarching direction set by the General Members Board and Governance Committee.

Organization Chart

Alberta Environment and Parks

Oil Sands Monitoring Branch

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on key air, water, land, and biodiversity indicators. The mandate within the ministry is to provide open and transparent access to scientific data and information on the condition of Alberta's environment, including specific indicators as well as cumulative effects, both provincially and in specific locations. The Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) Program is a joint federal and provincial initiative between the Government of Alberta and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The mandate of the program is to implement an ambient environmental monitoring program in the oil sands region that integrates air, water, land, and biodiversity. The OSM Program strives to improve characterization of the state of the environment and enhance understanding of the cumulative effects of oil sands development.

The WBEA has entered into a contractual agreement with AEP. As a working partner, the WBEA is one of the agencies helping to ensure that the OSM Program is delivered with the best expertise possible.

For more information, visit

WBEA within Alberta Airsheds

Alberta’s Airsheds Council

The WBEA is a member of the Alberta Airsheds Council (AAC), which is a partnership of Alberta’s Airsheds and provides leadership in support of healthy air quality for Albertans and the environment.

Initiated in 2006, the AAC includes membership from all ten Airsheds in Alberta and was formed to represent the collective interests of this collaborative group.

The AAC provides a forum for Airsheds to work and learn together, to continue to advance effective and efficient air monitoring, reporting and outreach, and to address regional matters.

To view any of the Airshed's websites, click on a region in the map and then click on the link provided.

WBEA Monitoring Network

  • All Stations
  • Continuous Sites
  • Forest Health Sites
  • Passive Sites
  • Meteorology Towers
  • Portable Ozone Monitor
  • Deposition Sites
  • Active Air Sites
  • WBEA Boundary

This map shows the locations for all current monitoring stations within the WBEA monitoring network. For more information on these stations, please visit

Arial shot of some wetlands.

Ambient Air Monitoring

The WBEA operated 28 ambient air monitoring stations in 2019 throughout the RMWB. These included industrial, attribution, community, background, and meteorological stations. The image below demonstrates how the WBEA collects ambient air data through continuous analyzers and time-integrated samplers to ensure residents and stakeholders have the information they need to make informed environmental decisions.

The WBEA provides all air monitoring data online via the following ways:

  • All WBEA air monitoring data are fully quality-assured and then sent by the end of the following month to, an AEP on-line database for all of Alberta's ambient air quality data.
  • All of the WBEA's data can also be found on our website at
  • To see various ambient air monitoring trends within the WBEA’s network, visit
Ambient air monitoring infographic.

Ambient Air Monitoring



Pollution is emitted into the air from a variety of sources



The WBEA ambient air monitoring stations measures the concentrations of pollutants in the air



The information the WBEA collects is available to view on and is used to calculate the air quality health index (AQHI)

Air Quality Health Index

The Air Quality Health Index, or AQHI, is a provincial scale designed to help people understand what air quality means to their health. It is a tool designed to help individuals make decisions to protect their health by limiting short-term exposure to air pollution and adjusting activity levels during increased levels of air pollution.

The AQHI includes concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and ground-level ozone (O3), which are three compounds that can cause respiratory effects. Additionally, in Alberta, hourly pollutant concentrations are compared against Alberta’s Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAAQOs). If an AAAQO is exceeded, the AQHI value is overridden with a HIGH or VERY HIGH risk value. However, odour causing compounds measured in the WBEA network are not considered in the AQHI. Therefore, this index gives an idea of air quality based on some pollutants, but it does not describe the potential for odour events.

The WBEA reports AQHI ratings from nine of its continuous monitoring stations in the Wood Buffalo region.

The community of Fort McKay has also developed its own Fort McKay Air Quality Index (FMAQI), based on the data collected by the WBEA at its Bertha Ganter-Fort McKay air monitoring station. The FMAQI is independent of the provincial AQHI, and includes compounds that can indicate odours, such as Total Reduced Sulphur (TRS), total hydrocarbons (THC), and sulphur dioxide (SO2). For more information on the FMAQI, visit:

To find out more, visit:

2019 Hourly AQHI by Station

Low Risk 98.43%

Moderate Risk 1.21%

High Risk 0.28%

Very High Risk 0.08%

Low Risk 98.08%

Moderate Risk 1.58%

High Risk 0.33%

Very High Risk 0.01%

Low Risk 98.00%

Moderate Risk 1.63%

High Risk 0.34%

Very High Risk 0.02%

Low Risk 96.73%

Moderate Risk 2.84%

High Risk 0.29%

Very High Risk 0.14%

Low Risk 96.39%

Moderate Risk 3.08%

High Risk 0.32%

Very High Risk 0.21%

Low Risk 96.79%

Moderate Risk 2.92%

High Risk 0.28%

Very High Risk 0.01%

Low Risk 98.52%

Moderate Risk 1.30%

High Risk 0.18%

Very High Risk 0.00%

Low Risk 96.32%

Moderate Risk 3.14%

High Risk 0.49%

Very High Risk 0.06%

Low Risk 97.43%

Moderate Risk 2.15%

High Risk 0.35%

Very High Risk 0.07%

Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives

Alberta's Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAAQOs) were developed under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) to protect Alberta's air quality.

AAAQOs are generally established for 1-hour, 24-hour, 30-day, and annual averaging periods, depending on the characteristics of the pollutant. The first graph below presents a total count of air quality event exceedances of the AAAQOs at all WBEA ambient air monitoring stations over a five-year period, from 2015-2019. The second graph shows the exceedances for 2019 based on station locations.

When ambient concentrations of any air pollutant that the WBEA measures exceed the AAAQO, the WBEA has an Immediate Reporting Protocol that is put into action:

1. The data collection system automatically sends out alarm notifications to the WBEA personnel and an independent third-party alarm monitoring company.

2. The alarm company acknowledges the incoming alarm and reports the data and supporting information such as wind conditions, locations, time, etc., to AEP in real time, or as soon as becoming aware of it. AEP uses the data and information from the WBEA to follow-up as appropriate.

3. If the exceedance occurs at an industry station, the owner is informed that they have exceeded an AAAQO, and provided with the same information that was given to AEP. They are then required to follow up with AEP and/or the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and submit a report within seven days of the exceedance.

The table below shows the objectives for 1-hour, 24-hour, 30-day, and annual averaging periods for the parameters which have established AAAQOs within the WBEA monitoring network. Where there is a dash (-) in the table below AAAQOs do not currently exist.

Parameter 1-hour Average 8-hour Average 24-hour Average 30-day Average Annual Average
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) 172 ppb - 48 ppb 11 ppb 8 ppb
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 159 ppb - - - 24 ppb
Ozone (O3) 76 ppb - - - -
Total Reduced Sulphurs (TRS)
/ Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S)*
10 ppb - 3 ppb - -
Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) - - 29 μg/m3 - -
Carbon Monoxide (CO) 13 ppm 5 ppm - - -
Ammonia (NH3) 2 ppm - - - -

*In the WBEA network TRS concentrations are reported using the H2S AAAQOs.

Forest fire season was considered to be from March 1 - November 1, 2019. All of the PM2.5 AAAQO exceedances were related to forest fires in 2019.

Sunrise over a winter forest treeline.

Regional Wind Profiles

Air pollution transport, dispersion, transformation, and deposition are influenced by meteorological parameters, such as wind speed, wind direction, the vertical temperature structure of the atmosphere, humidity, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, and solar radiation.

The wind rose plots provided show the direction, speed, and frequency of winds at each community station in the network in 2019. The triangles show the direction the wind is coming from. The legend for the wind speeds is shown below. The colours within each wind rose triangle denote the frequency of the wind speed.

For example, the largest triangle in the Fort Chipewyan wind rose shows that the wind comes from the east, just 17% of the time in 2019. The red colour in this triangle shows the wind was between 10 and 15 kilometers per hour (km/h) 4% of the time.


0.5 - 5

5 - 10

10 - 15

15 - 20

20 - 25

>= 25

Calms: 0.04%

Tower Height: 20m

NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 3% 6% 9% 12% 15%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 3% 6% 9% 12% 15%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 4% 8% 12% 16% 20%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 4% 8% 12% 16% 20%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 3% 6% 9% 12% 15%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 4% 8% 12% 16% 20%
NORTH SOUTH WEST EAST 4% 8% 12% 16% 20%
Passive sampler equipment

Parameters Monitored at
WBEA Stations

The WBEA's ambient air quality monitoring program is conducted through both continuous and time-integrated (non-continuous) sampling methods. The following graphs provide general information for each parameter measured and the corresponding data collected for 2019. For a list of the air quality parameters measured at each station, click here.

Continuous ambient air monitoring uses analyzers that constantly measure the concentrations of different pollutants in the air. All stations also continuously measure temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction. The WBEA's continuous sampling data is available to everyone at The data for continuous monitoring is presented in the graphs below as the annual hourly average (mean) concentrations of each parameter, along with the annual hourly 99th percentile and maximum concentrations. The annual hourly 99th percentile is used to show the high end of concentrations measured at the WBEA air monitoring stations, after removing the highest 1% of events which may be outliers.

Note: Averages may be too small to be visible on some graphs. Hover over the graph to view specific values.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Ozone (O3)

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Total Reduced Sulphurs/Hydrogen Sulphide (TRS/H2S)

Total Hydrocarbons (THC)

Non-Methane Hydrocarbons (NMHC)

Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)

Ammonia (NH3)

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) – Sulphur dioxide is produced from the combustion of sulphur-containing fossil fuels. Sulphur dioxide in the air at high concentrations can make breathing difficult, particularly for children, the elderly, and people with asthma. Sulphur dioxide reacts in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid and acidic aerosols, which contribute to acid deposition and acid rain.

Time-integrated sampling provides more detailed analysis of species present in ambient air, and supplements continuous monitoring which reports a total concentration in real-time. Time-integrated monitoring methods consist of exposing sample media to the atmosphere for a period of time, and then the media is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The WBEA's time-integrated sampling laboratory reports are available to everyone at, and are searchable using the WBEA's Time-Integrated Data Search tool. The data for time-integrated monitoring methods is presented in the graphs below as the annual average (mean) of 24-hour sample concentrations, along with the 95th percentile to show readings on the high-end of the data collected, after removing the highest 5% which may be outliers. There are numerous species collected, however, the graphs show the 10 parameters with the highest concentrations in 2019.

Note: Select which parameter you would like to view, and then use the drop-down menu to select an air monitoring station.

Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) Ions

Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) Metals

Particulate Matter 10 (PM10) Ions

Particulate Matter 10 (PM10) Metals

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Change the location

Particulate matter (PM2.5 PM10) consists of a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is 2.5µm in diameter or less, while coarse particulate matter (PM10) is 10µm in diameter or less.

In the time-integrated sampling program, particulate matter (both PM2.5 & PM10) is collected on filter for a 24-hour period, every six days. PM2.5 samples were collected at four community stations (Bertha Ganter-Fort McKay, Patricia McInnes, Athabasca Valley, and Anzac). PM10 samples were taken at the same four community stations and three industrial stations (Fort McKay South, Horizon and Muskeg River). These filters are then sent to the lab for sample analysis to learn the chemical compositions including ionic and metal species. Ions are electrically-charged, water-soluble particles, while metals are neutral species.

The continuous analyzer can tell us the concentration of particulate matter in the air at any given time, while a sample can tell us what is making up the particulate matter in the air.

LARP Triggers

The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) came into effect in September 2012 and was the first regional plan developed under the Alberta Land-Use Framework. More information can be found on their website here.

larp triggers table

The LARP air quality objective is to manage releases from multiple sources so they do not collectively result in unacceptable air quality. LARP sets out trigger levels and limits for NO2 and SO2 as described in the table on the left. When a trigger is exceeded, AEP is required to create a regional management response.

The WBEA provides AEP with the air quality data that is used to calculate the annual LARP triggers and limits.

The table below shows annual average and hourly 99th percentile concentrations of NO2 and SO2 at each station location and indicates which stations met the criteria for a LARP trigger in 2019 based on these averages. The use of the hourly 99th percentile data is a statistical measure to indicate upper limits of the data. Increases in the 99th percentile beyond the LARP triggers can be an early warning to help inform appropriate management actions to prevent future exceedances.

LARP Charts for NO<sub>2</sub> and SO<sub>2</sub> LARP Charts key for NO<sub>2</sub> and SO<sub>2</sub>
Arial shot of a forest.

Deposition Monitoring

The Deposition Monitoring program, also referred to as the Terrestrial Environmental Effects Monitoring (TEEM) program, was established to address community, industry, and government concerns about impacts to regional forests resulting from industrial development.

The objective of the program is to determine cause-effect relationships between air pollutants and forest ecosystem health in the region. To meet this objective the WBEA operates both a long-term Forest Health Monitoring Program and an Atmospheric Pollutant Deposition Monitoring Program which monitor stressors (acidification/eutrophication) along the pathway (atmospheric transport) from source (industrial emissions) to the receiving environment (jack pine forests). This integrated program, as depicted in the image below, allows for the determination of cause-effect relationships between air pollution and forest health.

In 2019, the WBEA completed the analysis of historical data collected by both programs, in combination with data collected by the Ambient Air Monitoring program, and published nine open access manuscripts in a Virtual Special Issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment. The special issue, entitled “Relationships Between Air Pollutants and Forest Ecosystem Health in the Oil Sands Region, AB, Canada” is available online, click here. To access key messages from the manuscripts or view the June 18, 2019 public presentation, click here.

Ambient air monitoring infographic.

Terrestrial Environmental Effects Monitoring



Pollution is emitted into the air from a variety of sources



The pollution may be deposited onto the surrounding forest



The WBEA collects samples and information to measure the effects of pollution on the enviroment

Forest Health Monitoring

The Forest Health Monitoring program monitors jack pine forest sites to assess whether there are changes to biological, physical, and chemical indicators through a sampling campaign of soils and vegetation every six (6) years, as well as lichen sampling at varying intervals. During initial program development, the upland jack pine (Pinus banksiana) ecosystem was identified as the most sensitive receptor to acidification due to their characteristically dry, nutrient poor soils with limited buffering capacity. In these ecosystems, the effects of acid deposition are expected to be observed in a cascading manner from soils to vegetation, first impacting individual organisms, then the stand, and onward to landscape level impacts. This concept is depicted in the graph below; hover over the graph for more information.

The WBEA conducted the fourth intensive forest health sampling campaign in 2018, which included soil and needle sample collection, tree core collection, and documentation of various jack pine and forest stand characteristics. In 2019, this data was analyzed and reviewed and integration with the historical dataset was initiated to supplement the previous findings and broaden the understanding of impacts to regional forests resulting from industrial development.

Atmospheric Pollutant Deposition Monitoring

To better understand the nature and quantity of the compounds deposited on the regional landscape, and to inform the Forest Health Monitoring program, the WBEA operates a network of air quality monitoring (using passive and active air quality samplers) and deposition monitoring sites (using ion exchange resins) in remote locations across the RMWB for evaluation of a broad set of compounds (particulate matter, organic compounds, metals). For a list of the parameters measured at deposition monitoring sites, click here. The WBEA's time-integrated sampling laboratory reports are available to everyone at, and are searchable using the WBEA's Time-Integrated Data Search tool.

Passive air sampling

Passive air sampling uses a diffusive membrane to allow for the physical uptake of gas or vapour sample at a known rate. Data obtained from passive air sampling is used to model deposition trends across the region. Data collected in 2019 from passive air sampling for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) is presented on the concentration maps at the link below; the bigger the circle the larger the concentration.

Click here to view the passive concentration maps.

Active Air Sampling

Active air sampling uses a pump to provide a known volume of air to a continuous analyzer or sample media. In remote areas, absent from grid-supplied power, active sampling is achieved using solar powered systems. Ammonia (NH3), nitric acid (HNO3), and particulate matter (PM2.5) are monitored year-round by active sampling combined with filter media using a denuder system. Ground-level ozone (O3) is monitored April through October by active sampling with continuous analyzers. To view the active air sampling lab reports, click here.

Passive Deposition Sampling

Passive deposition sampling is achieved through ion exchange resin technology (IER). A column of resin beads is affixed to precipitation collectors to capture charged chemical species (ions) in precipitation water. The graphs below depict the deposition of ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3-), sulphate (SO42-), and calcium (Ca+) in relation to distance from the nearest emission source (stack) and indicates that deposition is higher close to emission sources.

Bulk ammonium, as nitrogen

Bulk ammonium, as nitrogen scatterplot graph

Bulk nitrate, as nitrogen

Bulk nitrate, as nitrogen scatterplot graph

Throughfall sulphate, as sulphur

Throughfall sulphate, as sulphur scatterplot graph

Throughfall calcium

Throughfall calcium scatterplot graph

Instrumented Regional Meteorological Network

The WBEA’s regional meteorological network provides key data for calculating deposition rates and evaluating ecological data. The network is comprised of six paired sites: six 30-meter tall instrumented towers (“met towers”) and six instrumented tripods (“met tripods”) that provide continuous, hourly data on climatic conditions throughout the Wood Buffalo region. Each met tower is co-located with a Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) site and monitors air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and solar radiation at four levels within and above the jack pine canopy, as well as temperature and volumetric water content within forest soil. Each met tripod is positioned in natural peatland clearing adjacent to a FHM site and monitors air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and solar radiation. Data for all six 30-meter meteorological towers can be found at

The map below shows where each of the six 30-meter meteorological towers are located within the WBEA's network. The wind data collected from these towers, measured above the tree canopy, are used to characterize wind flow in a wider geographical area, calculate emission deposition, and evaluate ecological data. The corresponding wind roses for each tower are located below the map.

Flower on the forest floor.

Traditional Knowledge

From the beginning, the WBEA has fostered collaborative relationships with Indigenous communities in the Wood Buffalo region. To coordinate these partnerships, the WBEA established a Traditional Knowledge Committee (TKC) to help develop and oversee long-term, traditional knowledge based, community monitoring programs.

Community Led Berry Contamination Study

In 2010, WBEA was approached by members of the Fort McKay First Nation with concerns about observed changes in the quantity and quality of blueberries and cranberries growing on their traditional lands. In late 2010, the joint WBEA-Fort McKay Berry Focus Group was established to design a program that is directed by traditional knowledge and lived experience. It incorporates qualitative observations and western science-based tools in the monitoring and analysis of harvest locations and berries.

In 2019, Conklin Métis, Fort McKay Métis, Fort McKay First Nation, Fort McMurray Métis, and Fort McMurray First Nation 468 continued to develop and implement their community-specific berry contamination studies. While the WBEA provides support to these programs, the WBEA does not share the data on the communities’ behalf.

Arial shot of a forest.

Odour Monitoring

The WBEA created the Community Odour Monitoring Program (COMP) app as an opportunity for people to provide information about the odours they experience throughout the RMWB, as outlined in the image below. Currently, analyzers can measure the concentration of specific pollutants or groups of pollutants, but they cannot measure if an odour is present or how strong the odour would be. Therefore, the app allows the WBEA to compare the information people provide about odours to the ambient air data collected at WBEA air monitoring stations. The intent is to find whether there are trends in the ambient data when odours are present—such as elevated concentrations of odour-causing compounds.

The 2019 COMP Annual Report, as well as links to download the app on iOS and Android devices can be found at

Community Odour Monitoring Program infographic.

Community Odour Monitoring Program



Pollution is emitted into the air from a variety of sources



The pollution may cause odours - anyone who experiences an odour in the RMWB can submit their observations via the WBEA’s COMP app



Users can learn about odours and view all observations submitted at

WBEA app modelled on a phone

Comp needs YOU!

The Community Odour Monitoring Program is still going on. To participate and provide information on the odours you experience in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo:


Download the COMP App for iPhone or for Android devices


When you smell an odour in the air, submit an observation in the App

The information collected is anonymous and will be used for research purposes only.

Arial shot of a winter landscape.

WBEA 2019 Membership


Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation
Christina River Dene Nation Council
Conklin Resource Development Advisory Council
Fort McKay First Nation
Fort McKay Métis
Fort McMurray First Nation 468
Lakeland Métis Community Association
McMurray Métis
Mikisew Cree First Nation


Keyano College
Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development


Alberta Energy Regulator
Alberta Environment and Parks
Alberta Health
Alberta Health Services
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Health Canada
Parks Canada
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo


Athabasca Oil Corporation
Canadian Natural
Cenovus Energy Inc.
CNOOC International
Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd.
ConocoPhillips Canada
Devon Canada Corporation
Hammerstone Corporation
H.J. Baker Sulphur Canada ULC
Husky Oil Operations Ltd.
Imperial Oil Limited
Inter Pipeline Limited
MEG Energy Corp.
Parsons Creek Aggregates
PetroChina Canada Ltd.
Suncor Energy Inc.
Sunshine Oilsands Ltd.
Surmont Energy
Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Teck Resources Ltd.
Titan Tire Reclamation Corporation
Total E&P Canada Ltd.

Downloadable PDF of 2019 Annual Report