Who says you can’t make a difference?
As the climate crisis looms, governments and companies should be held responsible for fossil fuel development, and this can lead to important changes. In the case of Canada, the criticism from environmental groups was such that a massive project ended up being canceled.
The oil company Teck Resources Limited announced yesterday its decision to cancel its Frontier Project, after nine years of planning. The company planned to build and operate an open-pit mine of oil sands in northern Alberta, extracting an estimated 260,000 barrels of bitumen oil per day.
As you might expect, the project would have come at a massive environmental cost. It would have meant clearing out 24,000 acres of boreal forest and releasing 4.1 megatons of climate-warming emissions per year for the next four decades.
That led to strong opposition from environmental groups. For several years, campaigns against the project have been opposed to the project, culminating in Indigenous-led rail blockades and similar types of civil disobedience.
Don Lindsay, chief executive of Teck Resources, sent a letter to government officials claiming investors and consumers were looking to governments to put “a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest products” — something that he said “does not yet exist” in Canada.
“The growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project,” he added, blaming indigenous groups for opposing the project.
Last year, a panel from federal and provincial government officials concluded the oil project would have “significant adverse environmental effects,” such as the “irreversible” destruction of peatland. Nevertheless, the panel said the economic benefits “justified” the environmental problems.
The company, with operations in Canada, the US, Chile, and Peru, had claimed the mine would have a lower emissions intensity than roughly half of all oil refined in the US. It had even vowed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in all its mining operations across the world.
Canadian President Justin Trudeau was due to make a decision by the end of the month over the definitive approval or dismissal of the project. But the company decided for him in advance, canceling it. Trudeau has argued that supporting the fossil fuel sector and addressing climate change go “hand in hand.”
Reacting to Teck Resources’ decision, Canada’s natural resources minister Seamus O’Regan said the government is committed to “developing our natural resources sustainably and to creating good, middle-class jobs,” claiming a “strong economy and a clean environment have to go hand in hand.”
Conservatives in Canada were furious with the announcement, blaming Trudeau for the cancelation of the project, which they claimed would have boosted the economy of Alberta.
“It is what happens when governments lack the courage to defend the interests of Canadians in the face of a militant minority,” Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, said in a statement.
Trudeau responded with a vague statement, in a non-partisan style that aimed to displease as little as possible, but reiterated efforts to “ensure clean, sustainable growth for Canadians” and hopes to find a “quick and peaceful resolution” to rail blockades.
Canada is the fourth largest oil producer, supplying six million barrels a day. The oil sands represent 60% of that output. They are essentially a mixture of sand and clay soaked with a dense form of petroleum known as bitumen – highly difficult to extract and requires a lot of energy to do so.