'High stakes' mine near Fort McMurray should be rejected, says environmental charity

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is making a final push to convince the federal environment minister that building a mine near Wood Buffalo National Park would have devastating environmental impacts. 

The federal government is currently accepting public comments and CPAWS has been encouraging people to submit concerns. 

Teck Resources Ltd. is looking to build the $20.6-billion Frontier mine 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, which is about 30 kilometres away from the national park. 

The project’s total capacity would be 260,000 barrels of oil a day and the company has said it aims to start producing oil in 2026.

On its website, CPAWS lists a multitude of negative impacts it says the mine would have on nearby wildlife, including increased mortality for whooping cranes and loss of habitat for the Ronald Lake wood bison herd. 

“This is a really high stakes project,” said Gillian Chow-Fraser, boreal program manager for CPAWS. “If the risk can’t be managed then we are calling for this project to be rejected.”

She said the project would need serious changes to address all of the environmental impacts the project would have, including addressing the impact on one million migratory birds that would have to fly over the mine every year. 

“If they can’t even reach that habitat then they can’t even use it and benefit from it,” said Chow-Fraser. 

The Ronald Lake bison herd would also see a large negative impact from the mine, she said. The herd currently lives just south of the park, where the proposed mine would be built. 

Gillian Chow-Fraser, boreal program manager with CPAWS, says the mine would have significant impacts on the environment. (Submitted by Gillian Chow-Fraser )

Chow-Fraser said the bison are currently disease-free, but if they’re pushed north, away from their current habitat, then they could come into contact with other bison, which increases the risk of disease spreading.  

“That’s an impact that will never go away.”

In an emailed statement, Teck Resources said the company’s submission for the project is the “most detailed and comprehensive in oilsands history.”

The statement notes that Teck’s submission included more than a decade of community engagement and the company has agreements with all 14 of the Indigenous communities in the area. 

“Teck is committed to advancing the Frontier project forward in a manner that is respectful of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, is environmentally and socially responsible, and will create significant value for Alberta and Canada.”

Environment is the ‘public interest’

In July, a joint federal and provincial panel released a report saying the project is in the public interest, even though it  would likely harm the environment and Indigenous communities. 

“We would argue that keeping this habitat intact for the wildlife that use it, for the communities that depend on it … those are far more in the public interest than anything that is cited otherwise,” said Chow-Fraser. 

She said CPAWS would be happy if the company put in more environmental mitigation measures, but if that doesn’t happen they want the project to be quashed. 

CPAWS is hosting a news conference in Edmonton on Friday. 

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