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Trudeau government could approve 277,000 barrel per day open-pit Frontier tar sands mine in Alberta

Visual from Oil Sands Magazine

The building of proposed pipelines like the 1.1 million barrel per day TransCanada Energy East pipeline, the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, and the 760,000 barrel per day Enbridge Line 3 pipeline all facilitate a continued expansion of the tar sands in northern Alberta, which in turn means more carbon pollution, intensive water use, and violations of Indigenous rights.

One proposed expansion of the tar sands is the Frontier open-pit mine being advanced by Vancouver-based Teck Resources. The mine would be located about 40 kilometres from the Fort McKay First Nation reserve and about 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Construction on it could begin as soon as 2019. The mine could produce 74,000 barrels per day by 2026 and then 277,000 barrels per day by 2035.

The Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations both oppose the project.

Oil Change International has noted, “The Frontier project lies north of the Firebag River, territory of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which they have declared off limits to tar sands development. [The project] could ultimately destroy 30,000 hectares of boreal forest and muskeg – land that First Nations have built their lives and livelihoods around for centuries.”

And The Globe and Mail has reported, “Melody Lepine, the Mikisews’ director of government and industry relations, [says] Teck’s lease [for the Frontier mine] covers tributaries of Lake Claire which feeds [the Peace-Athabasca delta on the western end of Lake Athabasca].”

CBC reports, “It is the biggest project under review by the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency and the first major opportunity for Alberta’s NDP government and the federal Liberal government to make a key decision on [tar sands] development and Canada’s climate change targets.”

That news article also notes, “There aren’t hard limits on cumulative effects of [tar sands] development, but there are hard limits associated with the greenhouse gas emissions of the industry. In Alberta’s climate change policy introduced in November 2015, [tar sands] emissions are not to exceed 100 megatonnes in any year.”

Given tar sands emissions are currently at 70 megatonnes, the cap would allow for a 40 per cent expansion of the tar sands. Significantly, approvals are already in place for projects that would mean 130 megatonnes of emissions a year. As such, the Teck Resources Frontier Mine doesn’t fit within the cap.

That said, the CBC article notes, “Jim Ellis, chief executive of the Alberta Energy Regulator, said he did not know if the cap would be considered in the decision to approve or decline the mine.”

In October 2016, the Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex chapter participated in a #DeedsNotWords gathering. The outreach for that Idle No More day of action highlighted, “Now under review in Alberta by a system that has never denied a tar sands mine is the Teck Frontier tar sands mine, which would be the largest ever. Justin Trudeau it is time for deeds, not words, that truly respect Indigenous rights.”

Public hearings on the proposed open-pit tar sands mine are expected at some point in the coming months.

In various campaign blogs dating back to 2012, we have noted that Teck operates the highly-polluting and water-intensive Carmen de Andacollo copper and gold mine in Chile; that it operates one of the biggest lead and zinc smelters in the world in Trail, British Columbia; that its existing and proposed coal mines in British Columbia have prompted concerns from the US Environmental Protection Agency about the pollution of Kootenai-Koocanusa watersheds; that it owns a copper and zinc mine in central Newfoundland that could use power from the Muskrat Falls dam; and that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is currently being reviewed by a federally-appointed expert panel that includes former Teck executive Doug Horswill.