Panel says largest oilsands mine in Alberta history ‘in the public interest’ despite damage to the environment and Indigenous communities

By Catherine Griwkowsky January 29, 2019

A joint federal-Alberta panel has recommended a massive oilsands mine proposed by Teck Resources Ltd. be approved.
The decision — outlined in a 1,325 page report from the joint review panel — asserts the economic benefits of the project will outweigh the adverse damage it will do to the environment and Indigenous communities.
The company claims the Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project will generate $70 billion in tax revenues over its lifetime, including $55 million for Alberta. It is also expected to create 1,700 jobs during construction and 2,500 permanent gigs during operation.
“We find that the project is likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects to wetlands, old growth forests, wetland- and old-growth-reliant species at risk, the Ronald Lake bison herd, and biodiversity,” reads the report, tabled by a three-person joint review panel that included members of the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. “The project is also likely to result in significant adverse effects to the asserted rights, use of lands and resources, and culture of indigenous groups who use the project area.”
The panel also found that the measures Teck Resources proposed to mitigate the project’s damages are not “proven to be effective or to fully mitigate project effects.” 
For its part, Teck provided a pro-Alberta oil argument, stating that as the global demand for oil continues, it is better to supply the world with crude from Canada than from foreign sources.
If approved, the $20.6-billion Frontier mine near Fort MacKay would start producing up to 260,000 barrels of oil per day by 2026. The lifespan of the project is 41 years.
The Alberta Energy Regulator, one of the parties on the joint review panel, lists 64 conditions for approval in an appendix of the report.
There is, however, no guarantee that the project moves forward.
It still requires final sign off from Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, after which the federal cabinet will have until February 28, 2020, to decide whether to approve the project. The Frontier project has been undergoing environmental assessments since 2009. 
“The minister will consider the results of these consultations prior to issuing a decision statement and any potential legally binding conditions,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada in a release.
Teck itself is yet to offer a timeline for its investment, while financial analysts have said new oilsands mines could be unsustainable as Alberta crude prices are low and suppliers are facing limited pipeline capacity.
A company spokesperson told the Globe and Mail that, for the time being, Teck’s focus is on getting through the regulatory approvals. “Any further decisions on the project will depend on factors including our review of the joint review panel report, the outcome of the regulatory process which is not expected to be completed until the first quarter of 2020, market conditions and other considerations,” said Chris Stannell.
“Teck stated it has an obligation to the people of Alberta to advance the development of the
Frontier project to recover the bitumen resources within its leases in a timely and responsible manner,” the report says.
The Pembina Institute, along with environmental law firm Ecojustice, said the panel failed to properly account for climate impacts of the proposed Fortier project.
“We need to ensure we pursue smart and truly responsible development,” said Duncan Kenyon, regional director of Alberta for the Pembina Institute, in a news release. “If Canada chooses to approve this project, it needs to reconcile how this mine fits into our 2030 and 2050 national climate goals, and prevent any liability from landing on the backs of taxpayers. The oil and gas sector has done a lot to benefit Alberta’s economy, but the 21st century will demand something more of us.”
Ecojustice and the Pembina Institute also stated the report assumed sustained high oil prices to pay for the anticipated $2.9 billion in cleanup costs at the end of the project’s life.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema slammed the decision in a statement.
“As climate-fueled heatwaves shatter temperature records across Europe and Arctic ice continues to disappear it is truly unbelievable that Canada’s energy regulator would approve the largest tar sands mine in history,” Hudema said. “Obviously when the Canadian government passed a motion declaring a climate emergency, it forgot to pass it on to its regulators.”