Ecojustice Case – Climate change Case Status: Victory

Challenging the Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine

Barry RobinsonBarry RobinsonLawyer
Ecojustice lawyers and clients at Frontier Mines hearing
Photo by Olivia French

If built, Teck Resources Ltd.’s Frontier Oil Sands mine would have been one of the largest oil sands mines ever developed, capable of generating up to 4,000,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year at peak production.

In 2018, Ecojustice lawyers represented expert witnesses for the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition, also known as OSEC, at a Joint Panel Review hearing on Teck Resource’s Ltd.’s Frontier Oil Sands Mine.

Ecojustice’s clients expressed a number of concerns with the project, including that:

  • According to current oil demand, forecasts and trends in technology, the project may not be economically viable during its lifetime.
  • The project is a significant financial risk, as the costs of reclamation of this mine could be imposed on Albertans and Canadians if the economics of this mine prove unviable
  • The project poses unacceptable risks to boreal caribou and other species, and the government of Alberta does not currently have the tools in place to ensure impacts are managed

In July, the joint panel recommended the federal government approve the project despite these risks.

However, the project faced mounting public pressure in the lead-up to the federal government’s decision and in February 2020, Teck withdrew plans for the project, citing changing markets and the need for clarity on how Canada and Alberta will address resource development, climate change and Indigenous rights.

Ecojustice celebrated this decision as a win, and used it as an opportunity to call for a comprehensive national climate plan.

Why did Ecojustice get involved?

If built, the Frontier Oil Sands mine would have had devastating impacts on the climate and surrounding wetlands.

According to the Teck’s own estimates, the mine would have led to production of up to 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen, beginning as early as 2026 and continuing for 41 years. At peak production, the project would have generated up to 4,000,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year and caused the irreversible loss of 14,000 hectares of wetlands.

What does this victory mean?

Teck’s decision to pull the project means it is no longer on the table. This is a clear victory.

However, the conversation around this project and the decision to shelve it highlighted fundamental questions around how Canada and Alberta plan to address the climate crisis.

When Teck announced its decision to withdraw the project, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson and Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan reiterated Canada’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. In response, Ecojustice urged Canada and Alberta to enshrine that target in law and produce a clear plan to get there.

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