Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Environmentally risky Fort Hills tar sands project faces appeal

Sierra Legal Defence Fund will appear before the Federal Court of Appeal in Edmonton tomorrow to challenge a Federal Court decision allowing a Northern Alberta tar sands project to go ahead without an adequate environmental assessment. Sierra Legal will argue the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requires the entire proposed Petro-Canada Tar Sands Project, north of Fort McMurray, to undergo a federal environmental assessment.

In 2002, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decided to limit the environmental assessment of the Petro-Canada (formerly TrueNorth) project to one small creek in the entire project area. Representing the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, Prairie Acid Rain Coalition, and Toxics Watch Society of Alberta, Sierra Legal challenged the DFO’s decision, but in September 2004 the Federal Court sided with the DFO.

“Looking at only one tiny area when the project impacts over 10,000 hectares of land is simply unacceptable,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Tim Howard. “Neglecting to do a more thorough assessment could lead to serious environmental impacts for areas under federal jurisdiction, such as protecting migratory birds and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The tar sands project would include an extraction plant, transportation corridors, an electrical power plant, and most notably an open pit mine. The development of the mine could harm fish in the Athabasca River and lead to destruction of critical migratory bird habitat. Avoiding a complete assessment of the mine could also impact air quality.

“We are perplexed with the DFO’s original decision especially as the proposed mine could potentially lead to increased air emissions,” said Martha Kostuch, Chair of the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition. “The federal government is vowing to fight climate change on one hand, yet in this case is taking a stance that goes starkly against that position.”

Myles Kitagawa with the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta added, “The DFO took an oil sands mine and declared it a creek destruction project, allowing it to avoid a full federal environmental assessment of the entire mine project.”

The one-day federal court appeal starts December 13th at 10:00 a.m. in Edmonton’s Federal Court of Appeal at 5th floor, Tower 1 Scotia Place, 10060 Jasper Avenue

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