Shell tar sands project would harm land, water and First Nation rights but review panel rubber stamps it anyway

Late yesterday, while the nation was still reeling from the Lac Megantic tragedy, the Joint Review Panel announced its approval of Shell’s tarsands Jackpine Mine expansion.

Combined with other already approved tar sands projects, the Jackpine mine will ensure the tar sands exceed Alberta’s pollution limits for air quality, wildlife habitat and the Athabasca River. The expansion will also accelerate the already overwhelming impacts of the tar sands, putting more pressure on pipeline and rail transport at a time when both industries are under heavy scrutiny for safety concerns and spill disasters

Eriel Deranger, ACFN

The Jackpine Mine expansion alone will add another 100,000 barrels of bitumen production per year and extend the life of the mine until 2049. It will create a pit lake that once full will hold 486 billion litres of toxic waste, including mercury, lead and arsenic.  It will violate the constitutionally protected rights of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and other Indigenous groups in the area, threatening their health and destroying 21 kilometers of the Muskeg River - a culturally significant waterway for their traditional practices.

The expansion will also add 1.18 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – the equivalent to the carbon pollution of 280,000 cars. This comes at a time when we are dealing with extreme flooding, heat waves and forest fires across North America.

More than 50,000 people from Canada and the United States sent in comments to the Joint Review Panel and to the CEO of Shell Canada stating their opposition to the tar sands project.

One of the most disturbing things about the decision is that the panel admitted the reality of many of these impacts yet approved the project anyway.

In its decision, the panel said: “The Project, in combination with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future projects, would likely result in significant adverse cumulative effects on wetlands; old-growth forests; traditional plant potential areas; wetland-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; old- growth forest-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal TLU, rights, and culture.”

It also acknowledged that “some types of habitat cannot be reclaimed, the landscape will be significantly altered, and some species loss may be irreversible.”

As the ACFN’s Eriel Deranger says: “the JRP has prioritized oil industry profits before the health and well being of communities and the environment.”

It’s now up to the Alberta and federal governments, who have the final say on the matter. If they approve a project that by Shell's own admission will lead to industry exceeding the province’s pollution limits, they will destroy the last vestiges of credibility they have in claiming they’re overseeing sustainable development.

Targets are meaningless without the political will to enforce them. Apparently, the hope of real environmental policy is good enough for the Joint Review Panel, but hope won't protect water, air or First Nations’ constitutionally protected rights.

Will First Nation and environmental rights take a back seat as the destruction of the land, and water continues?

The choice is yours Premier Redford and Prime Minister Harper – what will it be – oil or people?