EDMONTON — Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench has quashed a government decision not to allow the Pembina Institute and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association to participate in the regulatory review of a proposed oilsands project.
In a strongly worded ruling, Justice Marceau called the Alberta Government’s actions “tainted" and concluded, “It is difficult to envision a more direct apprehension of bias,” in the government’s decision to improperly exclude the Pembina Institute’s evidence and participation.
“We are pleased to see that this error has been corrected,” says Simon Dyer, policy director for the Pembina Institute. “Albertans have a right to a fair oilsands regulatory process including the right to be heard and raise concerns about oilsands development.”
The Pembina Institute filed a Statement of Concern with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development in 2012 to gain standing to express concerns about the second phase of Southern Pacific Resource Corp’s proposed in situ oilsands project on the MacKay River near Fort McMurray.
The project would require up to 1.7 million litres of fresh groundwater every day and contribute to declining regional air quality. Further, the proposed project would be located in the habitat of a threatened caribou herd where disturbance already exceeds the threshold identified in the Federal Recovery Strategy for woodland caribou.
Documents obtained through the court challenge suggest that the Institute’s “recent oilsands publications,” along with the government’s perception that the energy policy think tank was “less inclined to work cooperatively,” were reasons for rejecting the Pembina Institute’s Statement of Concern related to this project and others.
“It’s deeply troubling that the Government of Alberta would attempt to block participation in the regulatory process on grounds that Pembina has raised concerns of its oilsands management policies,” says Dyer. “At a time when evidence is mounting that cumulative environmental impacts from oilsands are exceeding regional thresholds, it’s essential that directly affected stakeholders with credible information get a fair hearing.”
In 2012, there were over 36,000 energy applications in Alberta, including 410 in situ oilsands applications. The regulator held only seven hearings on energy related projects and a single hearing for an in situ oilsands project.
Judgment: official judgment of the Court of Queen’s Bench
Briefing note: Government of Alberta’s reasons for rejection the Statement of Concern from the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition
Media release: "Pembina Institute takes province to court over right to speak at oilsands hearings"
Judicial review brief: the Pembina Institute’s application to appeal the Government of Alberta’s rejection of OSEC’s Statement of Concern