Tales from the trail: New mega-mine could affect caribou

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Last weekend (Nov. 24), the deadline closed for public submissions on the Teck Frontier Mine in northeastern Alberta, which, if approved will be the largest oil sands development in North America.

If created as planned, it will cover 24,000 hectares of land: 14,000 ha of which is precious wetlands and another 3,000 ha is old growth forest which will be permanently lost. Though in Alberta, it comes within 30 kilometres of Wood Buffalo National Park threatening food sources for the buffalo and whooping cranes in recovery from endangered numbers and 100 other species that depend on that sensitive area for survival. If the feds give it the final go ahead in February, the project would further threaten the migratory rates of caribou trying to come home.

You’re not alone if this is the first you’ve heard about this. For one thing, the bulk of the discussions were going on when people here were focused on the territorial and federal elections so the environmental groups that usually try to bring these things to light were busy arranging election forums. For another, no one from the resource development sector and perhaps some in the government, especially in Alberta, want you to know.

Even though this massive development is slated for that province, there is little doubt that destroying the wetlands and permanently eliminating great swaths of boreal forests will impact the land, animals, water and people here. Once it reaches peak output in its projected 100 year lifespan, the plant will emit FOUR megatonnes of emissions annually which will have its greatest impacts on those areas within close proximity – the NWT. Then there are all those toxins that will pollute the water killing the land and animals in the southern part of the territories that the First Nations communities depend on. This project could spell their end.

Though there were spatterings of information released just prior to the project going to the joint federal-Alberta review board this summer, clearly the industry and probably the government of Alberta were trying to keep things quiet – it couldn’t afford a public outcry. In its deliberations, the review panel admitted that the new project would certainly cause irrevocable damage to the environment, but they determined that the possibility of securing 7,000 jobs in a drowning province was worth the loss.

Columnist Nancy Vail is concerned a new mega-mine in the Alberta oil patch will impact wildlife in the relatively nearby Northwest Territories. Photo courtesy of Teck

And then there’s the hidden agenda; how the oil from this site would put more pressure on securing the TransCanada and the Kinder Morgan pipelines – something few want.

The crazy part is the success of this operation, something even Teck Frontier doubts, depends on oil prices reaching $95 a barrel, which hasn’t been seen in years. When the project was approved by the board this summer, oil prices were at $60 a barrel. With more and more people switching to electric vehicles and turning away from products that use fossil fuels, it’s absurd to think there will be the demand for the 55 billion barrels of oil this plant plans to pump out A DAY.

At a time when we teeter on the edge of climate change catastrophe, should Canada be allowing a mega development of this scope which really brings our moral responsibility and integrity into question?

In the meantime, where were the territories’ own elected officials and senior government people when these hearings and submissions were going on? How come no one from the respective departments talked to us and did they prepare submissions on our behalf? If not, then when?

The work of all of this should not be left to a handful of environmental groups to try and keep the public safe. That is the government’s job which we pay for.

It’s not too late to write your MP Michael McLeod, and ask him to speak out along with your MLA. You too can post comments at https://action.cpaws.org/51742/action/1 or https://cease-ace.gc.ca/050/evaluations/prom/65505?culture=en-CA.

The latter is a complicated government address designed to discourage public comment.

The bottom line is that fossil fuels need to remain in the ground, if we, as a species and a planet, hope to survive.

Post script: thanks to the MLAs and other politicians who attended Friday’s gathering at the ledge calling for climate action. Your presence – and your absence – speaks volumes.

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