FORT MCMURRAY – Expert witnesses for the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition, also known as OSEC, gave testimony Monday at a Joint Panel Review hearing on the Frontier Oil Sands Mine, a project that, if built, would be one of the largest oil sands mines ever developed.

“We have serious concern about the long-term economic viability of this project, and whether any economic benefits from this project are acceptable for Canadians in exchange for the carbon emissions this one project alone represents,” said Nikki Way, a fossil fuels analyst at Pembina.

OSEC is a joint venture between the Pembina Institute and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association. Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, is representing the coalition during the Joint Panel Review hearing.

The Frontier Oil Sands Mine, a project proposed by Teck Resources Ltd., would occupy 293 square kilometres of land in northeast Alberta. The proposed site is 110 km north of Fort McMurray and less than 30 km from Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park and an essential habitat for several species-at-risk.

The developer estimates production of up to 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen, beginning as early as 2026 and continuing for 41 years.

A Joint Review Panel, comprising representatives from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Alberta Energy Regulator has been tasked with hearing testimony both for and against the project. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the panel must then issue a report, which federal cabinet will review when deciding whether or not to approve the project.

The joint hearing began Sept. 25 and final arguments are expected to occur in early November, at which point the panel will have 90 days to submit its decision to the federal government.

As part of the hearing, four experts from the Pembina Institute presented their evidence and answered technical questions put forward by Teck Resources Ltd., the Alberta Energy Regulator and the panel. A fifth expert will speak to the economics of the project on behalf of OSEC in the upcoming weeks.

In addition to testimony before the panel, the expert witnesses previously submitted written evidence outlining concerns with the proposal:

  • 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
  • At an estimated six megatonnes of CO2 per year, the project alone would represent almost four per cent of national emissions in 2050, if Canada successfully meets its mid-century target to reduce greenhouse gas emission to below 80 per cent of 2005 levels (from 748 to 150 MT).
  • 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

“Part of Ecojustice’s mandate is to combat climate change, and that means challenging short-term thinking that will lock us into a fossil fuel economy for generations to come,” said Barry Robinson, lawyer and interim climate change director at Ecojustice. “If built, the Frontier Oil Sands Mine would have a significant carbon footprint. That’s one critical reason why our clients say the risks of this project simply outweigh any perceived benefits.”

Other groups participating in the hearing include the Government of Canada, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort McKay First Nation, Keepers of the Athabasca and the Northern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.