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No GHG exemptions for oil sands: Environment Minister

Alberta’s oil sands industry must live up to Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, the federal environment minister said Friday.

“We intend to deal with all sorts of emissions in Canada in order to achieve those targets,” Jim Prentice told reporters in Vancouver.

“No one, including the oil sands, will receive a bye in that process.”

Prentice, however, was not clear how oil sands producers will meet national targets. Canada has agreed to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That is the same target set by the United States.

Producing and refining energy from the Alberta oil sands is a very energy-intensive process, which emits lots of greenhouse gases. “In fact,” reads a report released earlier this week by three Canadian green groups, “oil sands are the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in the country.”

The industry is forecasted to nearly triple oil production by 2025. The Calgary-based Pembina Institute estimated total oil sands emissions could be almost double those of New York City by 2020.

Prentice was optimistic Canada’s carbon targets will be met.

“We intend to make [oil sands operators] responsible by ensuring they’re subject to environmental policies that will reduce those emissions,” he said.

Prentice called today's Vancouver press conference to address the environmental penalty handed today to Syncrude, one of the oldest and most profitable companies in the oil sands.

Syncrude must pay over $3 million after being found guilty of negligence earlier this summer for allowing 1,600 ducks to land and die in a toxic tailings pond.

Prentince called the payment, some of which will go towards conservation programs, the “toughest environmental sentence in Canadian history.”

"A three million dollar fine to a multibillion dollar company that has violated the law amounts to no more than a slap on the wrist and does not send a strong message to the rest of the industry," Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema said Friday in a statement.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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