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Teck Resources’ withdraws Frontier mine application citing climate change concerns

In a shocking turn of events, Vancouver-based mining corporation Teck Resources announced yesterday that it is withdrawing its application for the controversial Frontier mine project.

Indigenous, environmental and social justice groups such as the Council of Canadians, along with many people across the country calling for stronger action on the climate crisis, celebrated the news.

This is a major win for Indigenous organizers at the front of the campaign to stop the Teck mine, and for the whole climate justice movement. As Indigenous Climate Action Executive Director Eriel Deranger said, “Teck rejected itself!”

The Mikisew Cree First Nation, Smith’s Landing First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and other affected communities opposed the mine as it would harm their territories and livelihoods, and these Indigenous communities are already experiencing devastating cumulative impacts from other tar sands projects including contaminated water, higher than normal cancer rates, and the loss of traditional food sources.

Downstream communities like Smith’s Landing First Nation were never properly consulted in the project review process. Smith’s Landing was finally able to enter the review process in June 2018, but the Alberta government and Teck Resources continued to ignore the Nation’s concerns and requests for meaningful consultation.

In a media release issued yesterday by Indigenous Climate Action, Chief Gerry Cheezie of Smith’s Landing First Nation emphasized, “Our community’s survival is at stake. We are already feeling the impacts of the changing climate and the environmental degradation caused by the historical industrialization of our lands and territories. We can’t afford another tar sands project.”

The Trudeau government’s cabinet was supposed to deliver their decision on the Frontier mine project this week.

The mining corporation says it will take a massive financial hit by cancelling the project. Promoted as a job creator, the mine was portrayed as an economic boost for Alberta. Over time, and with reduced oil prices, experts began questioning the economics of this project and agreed that the number didn’t add up.

There were signs earlier this month that the federal government’s support for the project may have been wavering. In a letter obtained by Postmedia to Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said there is “significant risk” of Alberta exceeding its emissions cap by 30 per cent in a decade if all approved tar sands projects proceed and the Teck project is also approved.

“When the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline project was approved by our government, it was understood that Alberta would implement its 100-million-tonne cap on oilsands emissions,” said Wilkinson in the letter. “We continue to encourage Alberta to follow through and fully implement its legislation to limit emissions to 100 million tonnes from the oilsands in 2030.”

According to the article in The Edmonton Journal, “the federal and provincial governments are at odds over Alberta’s current and projected emissions. In a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 5, Premier Jason Kenney said emissions were between 67 million tonnes and 68 million tonnes per year at the end of 2018. However, a federal government climate change report submitted to the United Nations last year says oilsands emissions covered by the cap will reach 87 million tonnes in 2020, up from 68 million tonnes in 2015.”

This $20-billion mine project would have been the largest ever expansion of Alberta’s tar sands if it had moved forward. In July, a provincial-federal Joint Review Panel gave their green light to the mine despite finding it would have “significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities,” including “use of lands and resources, and cultural practices of Indigenous communities.”

The mine was expected to produce four metric megatons of carbon emissions every year for 41 years – and that’s just production-related emissions, not the emissions from burning the fuel that the mine would produce.

At its maximum production level of 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day, the Frontier mine was projected to produce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as roughly 10 million new cars on the road. That extra pollution would have blown past Alberta’s oil sands cap, our federal climate targets and our commitments to the Paris Agreement.

In its letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson withdrawing its application, Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck Resources appeared to agree. “[G]lobal capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products,” the letter stated. “This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project. Questions about the societal implications of energy development, climate change and Indigenous rights are critically important ones for Canada, its provinces and Indigenous governments to work through.”

With the help of our supporters, the Council of Canadians took action to stop this mine,  drawing attention to the wild things Teck said at the hearings for the mine, and  submitting and presenting as an intervenor in previous Joint Review Panel hearings.  Thousands of Council of Canadians supporters and chapter activists wrote to both the panel and the federal environment minister, calling on them to #RejectTeck. 

Thank you to everyone for their contributions to this important campaign!