A battle is brewing over a proposed oilsands project by a French-based company that has drawn more than two dozen opponents from Canada, the U.S. and France at today’s deadline for submissions to a joint federal-provincial environmental review panel.
While a wide range of environmental and faith-based groups, including an Anglican bishop from Atlantic Canada, are urging the panel to reject the Joslyn North Mine project in Alberta, officials from Total E&P Canada Ltd. say they are committed to managing their project’s ecological footprint and working with conservation groups to find the best options available.
“We have spent nearly five years thus far on this application and look forward to presenting what we believe is an environmentally responsible mining project . . . before the (federal-provincial) panel,” said Elizabeth Cordeau-Chatelain, the communications manager for Total E&P Canada. “We believe that we can develop the Joslyn North Mine in such a way that it will benefit Canadians and balance environmental and social performance requirements as well.”
The joint review panel will be the first to look at an oilsands project since Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands mine went through a federal-provincial assessment in 2007. Although a judge had suspended that panel’s approval on the grounds that it did not consider all of the cumulative greenhouse gas emission impacts of the project, the court decision was eventually overturned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.
But a joint submission signed by groups in opposition, including Environmental Defence, said the Joslyn North Mine project must be stopped because of a wide range of impacts. For example, the submission said the project would result in the equivalent of 270,000 cars on the road or 1.5 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year in the atmosphere as well as the destruction of an area of land equivalent to 13,000 football fields, “with no realistic hope of restoring these areas to the same natural state they were in before.”
The opposition group submission, which was also signed by Bishop Sue Moxley from the Anglican diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, estimates that the project would result in 2,740 tonnes of acid-rain-causing pollution as well as the production of enough toxic tailings waste
to fill more than 100 sports stadiums at the end of its lifespan, with no proven plan to keep the toxins from entering the region’s lands and water.
“France is taking a leadership role in tackling global warming pollution at home, yet its biggest oil company wants to undermine that leadership here in Canada,” said Matt Price, Environmental Defence Canada’s policy director. “With clean energy alternatives now readily available, this project must be rejected by the panel as not in the public interest.”
The company said it was prepared to discuss the project directly with Environmental Defence to work together on solutions to improve environmental performance in the oilsands.
“We respect the interveners’ rights to express their points of view and have welcomed and continue to welcome the constructive input of all stakeholders through this process and through the ongoing dialogue we have had with various groups,” Cordeau-Chatelain said. “We view that as a continuous process that will continue throughout the life of the project.”
She noted that the company has also been awarded a top ranking on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in 2009 for oil and gas worldwide. She said it has also developed an “industry-leading” process to improve water-storage management that reduces withdrawals from the river.
“We take our environmental stewardship duties seriously, and we will bring this global track record to bear in developing the oilsands in Canada,” she said.