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Approval of Frontier mine would be a climate crime

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Photo by Brent Patterson.

Hearings begin today on the proposed Teck Resources Frontier tar sands mine that could produce at its peak 260,000 barrels of oil a day.

CBC reports, "[The mine] undergoes its first day of public hearings in Fort McMurray on Tuesday [September 25] before a joint review panel established by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Alberta Energy Regulator."

That article adds, "The hearing is expected to last five weeks."

The Narwhal notes, "Teck estimates the bitumen resources to be tapped are in the neighbourhood of 3.2 billion barrels."

And Eriel Deranger has written:

"This project would disturb over 292 square kilometres (overlapping with critical habitat for caribou and bison) along the Athabasca River, create 4 MT of GHG emissions annually, and contribute to the further diminishing of our inherent, treaty and international rights as Indigenous peoples."

Construction on the mine could start as early as 2019 while extraction of oil from the mine is expected to begin in 2026.

The mine would continue its operations to 2066, long past a climate justice movement demand of a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050.

Consultation and accommodation rather than free, prior and informed consent are also likely to guide the review and decision-making on the mine.

And while the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta has signed a deal with Teck, the Mikisew Cree First Nation has not. Deranger has written that Chief Allan Adam's acceptance of the mine is due to a "broken spirit" after years of Big Oil violating Indigenous rights.

Furthermore, Alberta's climate change policy sets a cap of 100 megatonnes a year. Tar sands emissions are currently at 70 megatonnes (or higher) a year. But given approvals are already in place for projects that would mean a total of 130 megatonnes of emissions a year, it's hard to see how the Teck mine could proceed if the cap were to be respected.

CBC has previously reported, "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."

It seems highly likely that the Trudeau government intends to approve the mine -- and that we'll see yet another rubber-stamp process. Despite the climate chaos an even further expansion of the tar sands would cause, Trudeau has stated, "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."

It's also unclear if stopping a new pipeline from being constructed would create a significant obstacle to an investment decision on the mine. Teck's Doug Brown says, "Frontier is not dependent on any particular pipeline."

The Canadian Press has reported:

"British researchers [from University College London] have concluded that most of Canada's [tar] sands will have to be left in the ground if the world gets serious about climate change. The report, published in the journal Nature, says three-quarters of all Canada's oil reserves and 85 per cent of its [tar] sands can't be burned if the world wants to limit global warming."

CBC adds, "[The study] says for the world to have a reasonable prospect of meeting the target, no more than 7.5 billion barrels of oil from the [tar] sands can be produced by 2050 -- a mere 15 per cent of viable reserves and only about one per cent of total bitumen."

Given the Frontier mine has been estimated to hold 3.2 billion barrels of oil that represents almost half the allowable extraction budget.

The Frontier mine is a new and important front in the fight to protect the planet.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Image: Brent Patterson

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