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Concerns abound as government forms review panel for oilsands project

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Some First Nation groups are skeptical about the environmental process for the proposed Frontier Oilsands Mine project in northern Alberta, as the federal government asks the public to comment on a draft agreement to establish a joint review panel.

Some First Nation groups are skeptical about the environmental process for the proposed Frontier Oilsands Mine project in northern Alberta, as the federal government asks the public to comment on a draft agreement to establish a joint review panel.

“While the scope of the panel’s mandate is sufficient to capture some of the key impacts of the Frontier Mine on Aboriginal communities, we believe the real issue is how Alberta and Canada addresses the recommendations and findings of the panel,” said Daniel Stuckless, manager, environment and regulatory with the Fort McKay First Nation.

“The joint review process can provide valuable information and recommendations to government. However, in our experience neither Alberta nor Canada follows up on recommendations made by joint review panels.”

Teck Resources Limited is proposing to develop and operate a new oilsands mine and processing plant about 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and 110 kilometres south of Fort Chipewyan, in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is inviting the public to comment on the draft agreement to establish a joint review panel with Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for the environmental assessment of the proposed project.

The agreement establishes the mandate and authority of the joint panel, its composition, as well as the procedures and timelines for the review.

In response, Stuckless recently sent a letter to the CEAA, which said it is questionable whether there is any value to First Nations participating in the joint review panel’s assessment.

“The Joint Review Panel could remedy this, in part, by requiring all mitigation and accommodation that will be implemented for the Frontier Project to be submitted by Alberta and Canada as part of the process,” said Stuckless.

The CEAA regulations require the assessment consider the environmental impact of the project and any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result from the project in combination with other projects.

In addition, the assessment should identify measures that are technically and economically feasible and that would mitigate any significant adverse environmental effects.

The project would use truck and shovel to mine two open pits and produce about 240,000 barrels per day of partially deasphalted bitumen.

Construction of the project would include an ore preparation plant, bitumen extraction plant, tailings facilities, cogeneration facilities, support utilities, disposal and storage areas, river water intake, fish habitat compensation lake, roads, an airfield and camp facilities.

The main development area of the Frontier project will be developed in three phases and will contribute 2.45 billion barrels over a 34-year period.

The south development area mine will be the fourth phase and will contribute 0.38 billion barrels over a 28-year period.

The proponent proposes to start producing partially deasphalted bitumen in 2021. In total, the project is expected to produce 2.8 billion barrels of bitumen over its 37 year life from 2021 to 2058.

The public is invited to submit written comments on the draft agreement in either official language to the CEAA by April 17, 2014. After taking public comments into consideration, the agreement will be finalized and made public.

Teck Resources Limited submitted the project application for the Frontier project to regulators in November 2011.

In the second quarter of 2013, Teck Resources announced the exchange of certain oil sands leases relating to the Frontier project with Shell Canada Energy.

The asset exchange significantly reduces the lease boundary interfaces between the Frontier project and Shell’s Pierre River Mine project, and is anticipated to benefit the economic recovery of oilsands for the parties’ respective projects.

Teck Resources Ltd expects to invest $105 million on the Frontier Oilsands project in 2014.

Brion Energy Corporation recently signed a deal with the Fort McKay First Nation to drop their legal challenge to the construction of a proposed oilsands project near Fort McMurray.

It is based on a commitment to develop the lease in an environmentally sound manner, while delivering social and economic benefits to the local community.

The deal set the stage for the final approval of the project.

by Richard Gilbert

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