An internal memo, prepared for a May 16, 2011 meeting between the President of Shell Canada, Environment Canada’s Deputy Minister and the Deputy Secretary to the Clerk of the Privy Council (obtained by Greenpeace Canada under Access to Information legislation), supports the concerns of First Nation leaders downstream from Shell’s proposed new tar sands mines.

Late last week, news media were reporting on how Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) was blasting the provincial government’s new land management plan for north-eastern Alberta as a “plan to annihilate our lands and our future” because "there are no commitments to our people and no protection of our lands and rights. We thought we were working towards a partnership with the government, but this plan doesn't reflect that."

Today, the ACFN issued a press release stating that they believe that “the proposed Shell Oil projects are in breach of Treaty 8 rights leading to degradation of critical hunting, trapping, fishing lands and waterways in the region.”

These points are echoed by Environment Canada officials in the “Points to Register” section of a “Scenario Note” for Deputy Minister Paul Boothe’s meeting with Shell Canada President Lorraine Mitchelmore. The memo states:

The Pierre River and Jackpine Mine Expansion Projects brings with them concerns due in part to:  

  • the scale of the projects;
  • proposed diversion of the Muskeg River [elsewhere the memo expresses concerns re “Removal of parts of the Muskeg River watershed and impacts on species at risk and downstream aquatic and riparian regimes and associated Aboriginal rights”];
  • burning of asphaltenes;
  • proximity to Athabasca River, Wood Buffalo National Park and Peace Athabasca Delta (a Ramsar Wetland and UNESCO World Heritage Site);
  • increased potential for cumulative effects as both projects are downstream of majority of other oil sands operations and nearby Fort Mackay and Fort Chipewyan.

The briefing note delicately sidesteps the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, noting that Environment Canada “is working towards a more definitive position on GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and while not regulatory, we trust Shell will take all steps to reduce GHG emissions.” The Harper government has been promising to introduce greenhouse gas regulations for tar sands operations since 2007, but has yet to do so.

The protection of wildlife, however, is squarely within Environment Canada’s mandate. And here the memo states that “Staff is concerned that the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] submission may not contain sufficient information on species at risk. The list of species of risk is now longer, meaning that obligations of EC [Environment Canada] and proponents towards species are now more involved.”

To gain a sense of these concerns, you can wade through the more detailed information in this Access to Information document from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (warning: it is over 50 MB and 740 pages).  I’ve pulled out some of the key bits on Species at Risk, Shell’s complaints that the process is taking too long and an interesting bit at the end on cumulative impacts here.

All of this comes shortly after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that public hearings on Shell Canada’s proposal to expand their Jackpine tar sands mine would start on October 29, and the federal government set a final deadline of May 22, 2012 in accordance with the fast-tracking legislation introduced in the Spring as part of the budget bill.

The ACFN is urging people to sign up as interested parties and voice their support for the first nation and their own concerns surrounding Shell’s applications.”  People can do so by emailing  before October 1, 2012. Becoming an interested party allows you to be notified of changes, hearing dates and location and when you can submit your own written/oral statements to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Joint Review Panel.

For more information on Shell in the tar sands, see Greenpeace Canada’s latest report: Harper’s Shell Game.

Photo is of Shell's Albian Sands tar sands mine. Photo credit Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace