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Sierra Legal, Others Suing Alberta over Latest Tarpit Approval

Sierra Legal Suing Alberta over Latest Tarpit Approval
Environmental groups sue over Kearl project

Canadian Press

CALGARY — A coalition of environmental groups has launched legal action in Canada's Federal Court to try to overturn recent regulatory approval of Imperial Oil Ltd.'s massive Kearl Oil Sands project in northern Alberta.

The groups, led by Sierra Legal, say the joint federal-Alberta regulatory panel “failed to do its job” when it gave conditional approval to the $7-billion Kearl open-pit mine late last month.

They argue that a full environmental review must take place before the federal government can decide whether the project should proceed.

“The panel's conclusion that a strip mine the size of 20,000 football fields with toxic sludge-filled tailings ponds visible from space will have no significant environmental effects makes a mockery of Canada's environmental assessment process,” said Stephen Hazell of Sierra Club of Canada.

Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute environmental think-tank group said the project was approved even though the review panel acknowledged being “deeply concerned” about the failure of government to implement systems to protect the environment.

“The joint panel has rubber-stamped another oil sands mega-project in the absence of clear answers about how to restore wetlands, rehabilitate toxic tailings ponds, protect migratory bird populations, or address escalating greenhouse gas pollution,” Mr. Dyer said in a release.

The environmental groups said the regulatory panel approved the project based on “phantom” mitigation measures that are undeveloped and unproven.

And they say the panel's job is to identify measures that can be applied now to limit environmental effects of the project.

“If those measures don't yet exist, the joint panel has to advise the federal government of the true environmental costs of proceeding with the Kearl Oil Sands project,” said Sierra Legal's Sean Nixon.

The Kearl project, 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, is designed to include four open-pit mines and related facilities and employ 2,000 people.

It is the third major, multi-billion dollar oil sands project to be given regulatory go-ahead in the past five months.

The first phase of the project aims at producing 100,000 barrels daily, with a potential to triple that output with expansions.

Imperial and its parent company, Exxon Mobil Corp., currently have no plans to build a new upgrader in Alberta, despite the province's desire to keep more of the value-added processing work.

The approval, following three weeks of public hearings last November, imposed 17 conditions on Imperial Oil, relating to environmental and technical aspects of the project.

The panel also made eight recommendations to the federal government dealing with such environmental issues as water management and emissions technology.

It submitted 20 additional recommendations to the Alberta government, urging the province to address the lack of land, infrastructure and social resources in the booming Fort McMurray region.

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