Ewart: Cumulative effects of oilsands development prominent as Jackpine hearing opens

Ewart: Cumulative effects of oilsands development prominent as Jackpine hearing opens by Stephen Ewart, October 30, 2012, Calgary Herald
When the hearing before a government panel over Shell Canada’s proposed expansion of its Jackpine oilsands mine began Monday at MacDonald Island Park in Fort McMurray, the company had something of a home-field advantage. A few days before the opening of the public stage of the review of its planned 100,000-barrel-per-day expansion, Shell and its Albian Sands partners pledged $2.5 million toward a large expansion of the community and recreation facilities. It will now be called Shell Place.

It’s all too much, too fast for some environmental groups and local First Nations. They’re urging the federal-provincial panel – which has representatives from Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency – to reject the application that Shell initially filed in 2007. The panel will assess the environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposal to determine if it’s in the public interest. The hearing is likely to conclude before Christmas with the panel’s decision expected in 2013.

Included in the 18,000 pages of information that Shell has submitted about the expansion to its existing operations 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray was the first study of the cumulative effects of industrial development in the Boreal Forest surrounding the city. It’s the first time the overall impact of development has been considered in a project review. As a result, when Shell and its partners – Chevron and Marathon Oil – are defending their project before the interveners and panel members, they will effectively be defending the oilsands industry. … “The environmental impact assessment for this project offers the clearest indications we’ve ever seen that the cumulative impacts of planned oilsands development are just too high to be considered responsible.”

The cumulative effects study, requested by the panel, shows the overall development across the oilsands region would result in a loss of 40 to 60 per cent of bird habitat, almost 50 per cent of woodland caribou habitat, almost 40 per cent of habitat for wood bison and important forests for lynx, wolverines, moose, beavers and black bears. Shell contends the already lengthy review should focus on its project.

The process has already become political. Last week, the panel decided it didn’t have the authority to deal with constitutional issues raised by Alberta Metis and First Nations over the development. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and members of the Metis Nation wanted the panel to decide whether Alberta and Canada had met their duties to consult with them. The matter is likely to end up in court. [Emphasis added]

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