Oilsands Industry Blocks New Wetland Protection Rules

Sept. 16, 2008

A last-minute withdrawal by the oilsands industry from a negotiated agreement on wetlands has prompted calls from environmental groups that the Government of Alberta not give in to oil industry pressure, but rather deliver on overdue rules to protect and conserve wetlands across Alberta.

Two letters to the Alberta government, sent by the oilsands industry after they withdrew their approval for a broadly supported wetland policy, demonstrate the oilsands industry’s overt effort to pressure the Alberta government.

Alberta Wilderness Association, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club of Canada (Prairie Chapter), Southern Alberta Group for the Environment, South Peace Environment Association and Water Matters are calling on the Government of Alberta to proceed swiftly to implement a landmark wetland policy recommended today by the multi-stakeholder Alberta Water Council (AWC).

“We congratulate the AWC on developing this comprehensive policy to stop the ongoing loss of wetlands across Alberta,” says Danielle Droitsch, Executive Director, Water Matters. The policy was approved by 23 of 25 participating AWC sectors, including the agriculture, forestry, chemical and power generation industries; municipal governments; environmental organizations; and five provincial government departments.

The oilsands industry walked away from the agreement in July 2008 after three years of negotiations. In mid-2007, the AWC Wetland Policy Team, including representatives from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Alberta Chamber of Resources representing the oilsands industry, agreed to core principles of a draft wetland policy. It recommended maintaining Alberta’s wetland area and benefits, and applying an Avoid–Minimize–Compensate framework to all development proposals affecting wetlands. The results of broad stakeholder and public consultation strongly supported the proposed policy. Now, at the end of the negotiation process, the petroleum sector has suddenly rejected the policy’s fundamental points, citing cost concerns of a few cents per barrel for environmental protection measures as an unacceptable burden.

Arlene Kwasniak, University of Calgary law professor and ENGO team negotiator for three years, states, “NGO representatives on the Wetland Team made numerous concessions throughout the process in order to better accommodate the interests of other sectors — in particular, the oil and gas sectors. It is very disturbing that the oil and gas sectors now either deny that they had agreed to the consensus document, or have retracted their support.”

Current and proposed oilsands mining projects will destroy over 80,000 hectares of wetlands. In situ oilsands projects also damage wetlands. Current reclamation regulations result in significant net losses of wetlands in the oilsands region.

“It now appears that the oilsands industry’s goals were to delay for years a policy designed to slow widespread wetland destruction in the tar sands region. The unexpected retreat from prior consensus principles by CAPP and the Alberta Chamber of Resources really shakes your faith in their integrity at the negotiating table,” says Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association and ENGO Alternate to the Wetland Policy Team. “These actions make claims of environmental responsibility by the oilsands sector ring hollow.”

Lindsay Telfer of the Sierra Club states, “The Government of Alberta must reject the oilsands industry’s effort to bully them into a weak wetland policy that will do nothing to protect Alberta’s ecological heritage but everything to encourage unmitigated and unsustainable tar sands development. The ongoing loss of Alberta’s wetlands, which are crucial to water supply, water quality, and ecosystem health, must be stopped.”

Deputy Ministers of Alberta Environment, Alberta Energy and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and senior officials from Alberta Health and Wellness and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, have supported this policy. After three years in the making, any delay or weakening of the policy will seriously undermine the effectiveness of the multi-stakeholder Alberta Water Council and further damage Alberta’s environmental reputation.

All six ENGOs are calling for a public statement from the Government of Alberta by November 1, 2008, on its plan to implement the Alberta Water Council’s recommended wetland policy.

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Copies of the letters from CAPP and ACR to the Alberta Water Council are available in PDF format here.

The following contact is available to comment on this news release at 3 p.m. on September 16:
Carolyn Campbell, Conservation Specialist, Alberta Wilderness Association, 403-921-9519 (cell)

The following contacts are available all day for comment:
Arlene Kwasniak, 403-830-8706 (cell)
Lindsay Telfer, Prairie Chapter Director, Sierra Club of Canada, 780-710-0136 (cell)
Cheryl Bradley, Secretary, SAGE (Southern Alberta Group for the Environment), 403-328-1245
Simon Dyer, Oilsands Program Director, Pembina Institute, 403-322-3937 (cell)

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