December 16, 2013

Feds give oilsands mine expansion the green light

Federal regulators have given the green light for the expansion of an oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta, despite concerns about serious environmental impacts.

Shell Canada’s Jackpine Mine expansion project involves the construction of additional mining areas, processing facilities, utilities and infrastructure.

The project is located about 70 km north of Fort McMurray on the east side of the Athabasca River.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced recently that the project was likely to have significant adverse environmental effects.

She forwarded the file to another government body, which determined the effects were justified under the circumstances.

In July, the federal joint review panel released a report in favour of the project, but also raised serious environmental concerns.

“The panel finds that the project would likely have significant adverse environmental effects on wetlands, traditional plant potential areas, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds that are wetland-reliant or species at risk, and biodiversity,” said the report.

“There is also a lack of proposed mitigation measures that have been proven to be effective.”

“I don’t think disappointed is the right word for how we feel,” said Eriel Deranger, communication co-ordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

“We are frustrated by the federal government’s inability to see there are serious problems that are associated with this project. The report from the Joint Review Panel shows this project has a lot of deficiencies that could take years to address. At least, the federal government could make the recommendations of the panel mandatory conditions.”

The project also includes the construction of a new external tailings disposal and will require the disturbance of 12,719 ha of area, as well as diverting 22 kilometres of the main stem of the Muskeg River.

It will increase bitumen production by 100,000 barrels per day and bring production at the mine to 300,000 barrels per day.

Aglukkaq has established conditions For Shell Canada.

These include mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements, such as an aquatic ecosystem monitoring plan, which establishes baseline aquatic health, flow rates, fish passage and chemical concentration in fish tissue.

Shell must avoid impacting migratory birds, their nests and eggs when clearing and removing vegetation or managing its tailings ponds.

Aboriginal groups must be notified about the process for accessing project lands not under construction, operation, or restoration, including the Muskeg River and the Muskeg River diversion.

In addition, Aboriginal groups must be consulted and provided information on aquatic health, water quality, the results of fish monitoring and the presence of health risks associated with fish consumption.

Deranger was quick to point out that the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation isn’t opposed to oilsands development.

“We are not anti-development, but we want responsible and sustainable development,” she said.

Shell is legally obligated to comply with the conditions laid out by Aglukkaq or face compliance and enforcement action.

This includes financial penalties of up to $400,000 per day in the case of a conviction for a continuing offence.

The Joint Review Panel report stated that they found the environmental impacts to be justified and the project in the public interest because it will provide significant economic benefits for the region, Alberta, and Canada.

For example, the total direct, indirect and induced employment from the expansion is estimated at 24,500 person-years over the project’s construction period.

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