STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Court Case on Oil Sands Set to Start in Canada

Posted by notarsands on January 15, 2008

By JOHN FLOWERS

January 14, 2008 2:19 p.m.

The battle between oil exploration and its inevitable environmental impact is coming to loggerheads in the Great White North, as proceedings in a federal court in Alberta begin tomorrow to determine whether a new oil sands field met critical environment requirements.

The judicial review, currently scheduled to last four days, is over the Kearl Tar Sands project, part of one of the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. It’s located in the Alberta region, about 70 km north of Fort McMurray, and is ultimately expected to produce 300,000 barrels of bitumen, the heavy oil recovered from oil-sands deposits, a day.

Exxon Mobil Corp.-owned Imperial Oil, Canada’s largest petroleum company, is facing allegations that it has not sufficiently game-played the degree and the length of time to which the project could adversely impact the surrounding environment and that a government panel last year was wrong when it said the company had.

The truth revolves around Canadian environmental law, which requires companies wishing to apply for mining permits to have in place concrete measures to address subsequent environmental effects, prior to drilling.

When the original decision by a joint panel of federal and provincial decisions was rendered, it cited an “absence of sustainable long-term solutions” to reverse any impact but ultimately gave Imperial Oil the green light. A similar joint panel approved a Shell Canada Ltd. expansion and a provincial panel approved a Suncor Energy Inc. expansion, only months before in 2006.

The parties suing Imperial Oil, which include the Sierra Club of Canada, disagree with the ruling and say they are holding the company to the letter of the law. Officials at Imperial Oil, however, believe they have met as best as possible current federal law and that the parties suing are exaggerating the level of certainty needed for compliance.

There were 16 days of hearings, held “in a number of venues,” said Imperial Oil Spokesman Gordon Wong.

He added, “From where we stand, we respect their right to challenge the report. We believe the joint panel did fulfill all of its obligations.”

Federal and provincial authorities have approved numerous mining operations over the years. But environmentalists pressing the case claim this one to be “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” according to Sean Nixon, an attorney for EcoJustice, formerly Sierra Legal and one of the litigants in the case.

“The panels have been navel gazing, and saying ‘we’re uncomfortable with this but we’re going to let it go ahead’,” Nixon said.

He added that “after a decade, enough is enough already,” claiming that the amount of leases and approvals are vastly outpacing the panel’s ability to regulate their environmental problems.

Operations to mine tar sand, a mixture of sand, water and heavy crude, pose greater environmental threats than standard oil mining, as it is not only more difficult and expensive to extract, but produces more greenhouse gases than standard oil drilling.

At the same time, for a country that just registered a net loss of 18,700 jobs last month, the largest drop since May of 2003, a lot of jobs and tax revenue are riding on this decision.

Write to John Flowers at john.flowers@dowjones.com

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