Application for Oil Sands Mine Project
On May 24, 2016, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change (the “Minister”) and the CEO of the AER announced the establishment of a joint review panel (the “Panel”) to consider Teck Resources Limited (“Teck”)’s application to construct, operate, and reclaim an oil sands mine and processing plant (the “Frontier Project” or “Project”). The Panel concluded that the Frontier Project was in the public interest, and recommended the Minister approve the Project, subject to conditions.
The Frontier Project would be situated 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The Project disturbance area would be 29,217 hectares, and the Project would operate for 41 years. The Frontier Project would produce about 41,300 cubic metres per day (260,000 barrels per day) of bitumen.
Creation of Joint Review Panel
The Oil Sands Conservation Act (“OSCA”) required the Panel to consider whether the proposed Project is in the public interest. Section 15 of Responsible Energy Development Act (“REDA”) and section 3 of REDA General Regulation also required the Panel’s consideration of the social and economic effects of the Frontier Project and of the effects of the Frontier Project on the environment.
As part of its review, the Panel was to gather information, conduct an assessment of the effects of the Frontier Project, including upon Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and prepare a report containing recommendations to the federal Minister of Environment. Final decision-making authority regarding whether to approve the Project would rest with the Minister of Environment, Canada or the Governor in Council.
The Panel concluded that the Frontier Project was in the public interest. The Panel noted that the Frontier Project would be located in an area Alberta has identified as being important for bitumen extraction. The Project would provide significant economic benefits, including the expected creation of 7,000 jobs during construction and up to 2,500 operation jobs during the 41-year life of the mine. The Panel found that the Project was anticipated to contribute more than $70 billion directly to federal, provincial, and municipal governments.
Social and Economic Effects and Effects on the Environment
Although the Panel found that overall approval of the Frontier Project was in the public interest, the Panel found that there would be significant adverse Project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities under the AER’s authority. However, the Panel considered the effects to be justified, based on the following:
(a) In response to requests from affected parties, the Panel included recommendations to the governments of Alberta and Canada regarding management frameworks and plans in Appendix 6 of the Panel’s report.
(b) The Panel also found that the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan was an appropriate mechanism for identifying and managing regional cumulative effects.
The Panel acknowledged that the level of detail available for some aspects of the Project design was limited and that, consequently, there would be some uncertainty regarding future conditions and the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures. However, the Panel noted Teck’s commitment to using an adaptive management approach and working with regulators, Indigenous communities, and other stakeholders to address uncertainties and issues that arise during construction and operation of the Project.
The Panel recommended approval of the Project subject to various approval conditions, set out in Appendix 5 of the Panel’s report.