Any day now, the Trudeau government is expected to render its verdict on the $20-billion Teck Resources Frontier mine proposed to push Alberta’s industrialized oilsands landscape farther north.
There’s been a lot of published debate about whether the economics of the big dig make any sense. Less covered has been the environmental toll the project will exact should it proceed.
Last July, the Joint Review Panel assessing the impacts of the project released a 1,335-page report after holding public hearings.
Despite finding “significant adverse effects,” the panel declared that the mammoth project was in the public interest.
It added that the mine “would maximize the value of a product which is essential to everyday life” and provide income for Indigenous peoples of Alberta and Canada. Assuming, that is, oil prices reach $95 a barrel.
Oil prices currently now sit at $50 a barrel, so that public interest to be traded against natural destruction is far from materializing.
In the meantime, here’s what the panel said the mine will destroy or imperil:
The project will destroy 292 square kilometres of the boreal forest, most of which is prime waterfowl habitat. For reference, that’s nearly three times the size of the city of Vancouver.
The report adds, “The project is likely to result in a significant adverse effect to biodiversity, primarily as a result of the loss of wetlands and old-growth forests.”
There will be a high to moderate loss of habitat for migratory birds whose populations are already dwindling.
According to the report, “more than 40 per cent of the old-growth forest within the regional study area will be removed and will not be recreated for more than 100 years after reclamation.”
In addition, the project “has the potential to make an incremental contribution to already existing significant adverse cumulative effects to woodland caribou.”
“Significant adverse effects” are expected for Roland Lake bison herd, a small population of disease-free genetically distinct wood bison.
In its first decade of operation the project will use about 105.2 million cubic metres of water — about 100 billion liters of water, or 100 small lakes.
The project will destroy or alter fish habitat for 1.5 million square metres in the Red Clay Creek and Big Creek watersheds, as well as the Athabasca River.
It will affect the traditional land use, rights and culture of 14 First Nations.
Total greenhouse emissions are estimated at 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year — about the amount generated by 400,000 homes or 800,000 passenger vehicles, or one large coal-fired power plant.
The project’s approval and construction “may make it more difficult to achieve commitments under the Paris Accord.”
The project could “affect groundwater quantity and quality through spills, seepage of process-affected waters, and dewatering and depressurization of surficial deposits and overburden.”
The project will replace peatlands and wetlands with bodies of open water and man-made hills.
Parks Canada is concerned that the project’s effects “might impact the survival, health and breeding success for migratory waterfowl, and may contribute to the overall decline in migratory waterfowl in the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Wood Buffalo National Park.”