Wilkinson Weighs Teck Tar Sands/Oil Sands Megaproject Against Net-Zero Carbon Pledge
Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he’s grappling with how Teck Resources’ C$20.6-billion tar sands/oil sands mining megaproject fits in with Canada’s climate commitments, with a decision on the controversial project expected in the first three months of the year.
“That is something that we will have to be discussing and wrestling with as we make a decision one way or the other,” Wilkinson said in mid-December, following a meeting with Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon. “That is a target that is not informed by politics. It’s informed by science.”
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Last summer, a federal-provincial review “determined Frontier would be in the public interest, even though it would be likely to harm the environment and Indigenous people,” The Canadian Press wrote, noting that Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is pressing Ottawa for a quick approval. Official estimates put the mine’s annual greenhouse gas emissions at 4.1 megatonnes, a figure environmental groups say is too low.
While Wilkinson says he wants to assess how the project fits within the federal government’s pledge to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, he’s already facing pressure from beyond the Alberta government and the fossil lobby. In an editorial that appeared just two days after its own news reporting placed Canada far short of meeting its current, Harper-era target for greenhouse gas reductions, the Globe and Mail made the curious argument that the Trudeau government should approve the project, knowing or hoping that Teck is unlikely ever to complete it.
“We believe the Trudeau government should give its approval,” the Globe writes. “We also believe that, even after approval is granted, Frontier is likely to remain unbuilt, possibly forever. It’s a megaproject that doesn’t appear to make business sense, absent higher oil prices,” and Teck has already delayed its start date until 2026.
The Globe editors say they want the project approved because denying it wouldn’t reduce global demand for oil, or prevent its 260,000 barrels per day of output from being supplied by some other producer. “For Ottawa, its Frontier decision should be about ensuring that strong climate rules are in place across Canada, starting with the carbon tax,” they write. “Everyone, including oil producers, has to contribute. An ever-escalating carbon tax on industrial operations such as the oil sands will encourage ever-greater emission reductions. Ottawa’s job is to design a robust framework for carbon reduction, and then leave it to individuals and businesses to choose their path.”
The editorial also suggests some of the conditions the government should apply to the project, adding that “all of that will only come into play if Frontier is built. That doesn’t look as though it’s happening any time soon. The holdup is economic reality, not regulatory roadblocks. Making that perfectly clear is one more reason the Trudeau government should say yes to the project.”