A joint review panel (JRP) of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) has endorsed a proposal by Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. despite findings that effects on nature would be significant.
The C$20.6 billion ($15 billion) plan, Frontier Oil Sands, calls for open pit mining to produce up to 260,000 b/d of heavy crude for 41 years. The operation would develop 290 square kilometers (116 square miles) of shallow oilsands deposits 110 kilometers north of Fort McMurray.
All native tribes that would be directly affected have made cooperation and benefits agreements with Teck. Forecast economic gains include jobs for 7,000 construction and 2,500 mineworkers, and C$70 billion ($52 billion) in Alberta, federal and municipal government royalty and tax revenues.
Like all oilsands development, the Frontier project would include heat processes and power generation that contribute to northern Alberta bitumen production's status as the mainstay biggest domestic customer for Canada's natural gas industry.
"Although we find that there will be significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and indigenous communities, we consider these effects to be justified and that the Frontier project is in the public interest,” the JRP ruling said.
Forecast effects include 4 million tons/year of greenhouse gas emissions and disruption of old-growth forest, wetlands, wildlife species deemed to be at risk of extinction, and iconic northern caribou, bison, fishers and Canada lynx.
However, the proposed mine is forecast to have little measurable effect on two northern Alberta protected natural areas designated as world-class heritage sites by the United Nations, Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
The JRP also acknowledged that the native agreements tolerate losses to traditional aboriginal lifestyles. The project, “in combination with other existing, approved, and planned projects will also contribute to existing significant adverse cumulative effects to the asserted rights, use of lands and resources, and culture of indigenous groups in the mineable oilsands region."
The panel's 1,325-page report, including multiple approval conditions for managing and minimizing project negative effects, follows eight years of studies and public hearings.
The earliest target date for first is 2026. Teck, a mining conglomerate with international mineral and fossil fuel operations, has made no final investment decision on construction while limited pipeline capacity restrains Alberta oil and gas industry growth.
As final approval authorities, the federal environment ministry and cabinet also set no firm date for a decision on the Frontier project. Instead, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced further review stages including additional public and native consultations by the CEAA.