Big Oil Rejects Wetlands Policy
Posted by mhudema on September 16, 2008
Two major industry associations representing oilsands producers are refusing to support key tenets of a long-awaited plan to protect Alberta’s wetlands, citing concerns about rigid rules and restoration costs that could stretch to $1 billion and beyond.
Environmental groups say they have been blindsided by the decision.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how critical wetlands are,” said Danielle Droitsch, executive director of Water Matters, a Canmore-based environmental group.
Rules to protect the province’s disappearing wetlands — key to both healthy water supplies and wildlife — are long overdue, say environmentalists and other industry groups that are members of the wetland policy project team.
“While we’ve been negotiating this policy for three years, the Alberta government has been licensing (oilsands) operations in the absence of a policy,” Droitsch said.
She said she is concerned about the tremendous amount of influence the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Alberta Chamber of Resources (representing the mining industry) may have on whatever decision is eventually made by the Alberta government.
“Who does it benefit to have a delay in the policy?” she asked. “It’s basically benefitted the oilsands industry.”
Environmental concerns about Alberta’s oilsands most often centre around the greenhouse gases being produced by the huge developments. But increasingly — and especially after 500 birds died in a toxic oilsands tailings pond in April — worries about protecting wetlands and wildlife have received greater attention.
Some conservationists say 60 per cent of the province’s wetlands have already been destroyed in decades of agricultural, industrial and residential development.
Three years ago, the Alberta government tasked the Alberta Water Council with solidifying recommendations for laws and regulations to stop the damage across the province.
In a letter to the water council this summer, CAPP said it is worried costs to follow through with a recommendation for a “no net-loss policy” — which would require oilsands companies to restore another wetland to make up for a loss — “could exceed billions of dollars.”
“The government of Alberta needs to recognize the land base and monetary cost for compensating for wetland loss at the scale of oilsands mining projects will be substantial,” the letter said.
According to the Alberta government, $52 billion was invested in the oilsands between 2000 and 2006.
But the two industry groups are also concerned the wording contained in the recommendations is too rigid and argue restoration measures should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
They also want the new rules to be grandfathered so they won’t affect current oilsands projects.