A proposal for a new oil sands project in northern Alberta is renewing discussion about the relationship between the energy sector, environment, and economy.
Vancouver-based Teck Resources is pushing forward plans to build a $20-billion oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta. The truck-and-shovel mine would produce 260,000 barrels of oil per day, Teck Resources estimates.
On Thursday, a panel of federal and provincial representatives agreed the project was of public interest—but also that the mine is likely to cause significant harm to the environment and Indigenous land.
Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema has said a greenlight of the project by Canada would be hypocritical given its recent declaration of a national climate emergency.
“In a time of climate crisis, there is no way that we should be approving the largest tar sands project to date and the millions of tons of emissions that project would release,” Hudema said.
In announcing a national climate emergency, Canada’s House of Commons also voted that Canada commit to the Paris Agreement’s objective of holding global warming below 1.5 C.
Hudema added, “To meet those targets we need to start taking projects offline—not putting new projects online.
“So I’m hoping the federal government looks at this project and it’s a very easy answer for them.”
The panel’s report does include stipulations, and called for mitigating factors before the project receives final approval.
Teck Resources has said it “is committed to developing the Frontier Project in a way that is environmentally responsible, respectful of Indigenous communities, and creates meaningful benefits for the people of the region.”
Frontier’s next step will be a review by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, overseen by Ottawa.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said there are political realities the government will have to consider.
“I don’t think it’s a risk for Jason Kenney. I think it’s a win for him,” Williams said. “But it’s much more a risk for the federal government.”
If built, Frontier will bring an estimated $70 billion to the Canadian economy according to an estimate based mainly on tax royalties.
Williams added: “A lot can happen to oil prices in the intervening period. So there are a lot of uncertainties involved here.