Environmental Groups Warn: Proposed Mine Would Cause Irreparable Damage to Environment and Community

July 2, 2002
Media Release
Gail MacCrimmon

At the hearing that began today in Fort McMurray, the Oilsands Environmental Coalition (OSEC) will urge the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board not to approve the surface mining and extraction Fort Hills project proposed by TrueNorth. The project would seriously damage a rare and fragile wetland, and would stand to destroy both endangered plant species and important migratory bird habitat.

With a slated capacity of 190,000 barrels of oil per day, the mining project will impact over 98% of the ecologically sensitive McClelland Lake Wetland Complex. Located 85 km north of Fort McMurray the project is in a region rapidly being converted into an industrial landscape by oilsands developments.

The McClelland Complex is home to a rare type of wetland — a patterned fen, which has a unique surface pattern formed by alternating peat ridges (strings) and linear depressions or pools (flarks). The TrueNorth project would destroy 45% of the fen, including rare plants and important wetland habitat.

"The relatively small amount of oil that would be taken from this site cannot justify the irreparable damage that would be done. It would be tragic to destroy a significant and irreplaceable part of Alberta's landscape just to get at this oil," said Gail MacCrimmon of the Pembina Institute.

Thirteen percent of Alberta's approximately 300 billion barrels of oilsands reserves can be surface mined, roughly 32 billion barrels of oil. The oil beneath the patterned fen represents only one billion barrels, or less than one-half of one percent of the total reserves.

Wetlands such as the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex are also significant because they act as natural filters, purifying surface water, recharging groundwater, and providing an important source of freshwater. The increasing loss of wetland habitat elsewhere in Alberta makes protecting the integrity of the McClelland site crucial.

Further, the coalition is concerned about the cumulative environmental impacts of this project in combination with existing industrial development.

The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) is charged with designing an environmental management system to ensure sustainable development in the region. But according to Myles Kitagawa, Toxics Watch Society of Alberta and member of OSEC, "After two years of work, the government still has not established safe environmental thresholds for air, water and habitat quality or for water withdrawal rates from the Athabasca River." He went on to say, "Protective thresholds are needed by regulators before they can make informed decisions about new projects."

Ann Dort-McLean of the Fort McMurray Environmental Association, also a member of OSEC, has concerns as well. She explains that the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is currently under an incredible amount of socio-economic stress: "We are experiencing over-crowding in hospitals and schools, strained social services, a lack of affordable housing and high road fatality and injury rates. Unless there is a significant investment in physical and social infrastructure, the Fort Hills project will only make these impacts worse."

For more information contact:

Cell number at hearing: 780-907-1231
To leave voicemail: 403-269-3344, ext. 116

Gail MacCrimmon, Pembina Institute

Myles Kitagawa, Toxics Watch Society

Anne Dort-MacLean, Fort McMurray Environmental Association

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