Environmentalists Win Landmark Oilsands Case Court finds gaping holes in environmental assessment

March 5, 2008

The Federal Court of Canada today released a judgment finding fatal legal errors in the environmental assessment of the Kearl Tar Sands Project, north of Fort McMurray. Ecojustice lawyer Sean Nixon was in court in January on behalf of the Pembina Institute, Sierra Club of Canada, the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta and the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition.

"This is a huge victory," said Nixon. "The Court accepted our position that the environmental assessment was flawed, and that the Joint Panel failed to explain why they thought the Kearl Project would cause only insignificant environmental harm. We will now consider whether to bring another lawsuit to challenge the project's federal permit that was granted without legal authority."

Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed the lawsuit in Federal Court in March 2007 challenging a Federal-Provincial Joint Panel report that concluded the $5 to 8 billion project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects. Evidence in the case showed that the Kearl Project will result in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions from 800,000 passenger vehicles over the 50 year lifespan of the project. The Alberta government proposed to address these emissions through "intensity-based" emissions targets. The Court held as follows (paras.78-79):

The evidence shows that intensity-based targets place limits on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of bitumen produced. The absolute amount of greenhouse gas pollution from oilsands development will continue to rise under intensity-based targets because of the planned increase in total production of bitumen. The Panel dismissed as insignificant the greenhouse gas emissions without any rationale as to why the intensity-based mitigation would be effective...
... given the amount of greenhouse gases that will be emitted to the atmosphere and given the evidence presented that the intensity based targets will not address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, it was incumbent upon the Panel to provide a justification for its recommendation on this particular issue.

"The tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada," said Simon Dyer from the Pembina Institute. "This decision highlights that intensity-based targets allow pollution to grow and do not protect the environment. We need real action by the Federal Government in the form of regulations to reduce total amount of greenhouse gas pollution."

The decision follows internal government warnings that environmental assessments were not being properly conducted for tar sands projects, and that cumulative impacts of tar sands development are being ignored.

"The judgment means that climate change impacts need to be taken seriously in environmental assessments of the tar sands" said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. "For too long, our governments have professed concern about growing greenhouse gas emissions while taking no action to reduce those emissions from projects that they regulate. In effect, the Federal Court is saying that this hypocrisy has to stop."

For further information please contact:
Sean Nixon, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (604) 685-5618 ext. 241
Simon Dyer, Pembina Institute (403) 322 3937
Stephen Hazell, Sierra Club of Canada (613) 241-4611 or (613) 724-1908 (cell)
Myles Kitagawa.Toxics Watch Society of Alberta (780) 439 1912 or (780) 907 1231 (cell)

Photographs and B-roll video of oilsands mine development are available at www.pembina.org/oil-sands

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