Energy policy think tank sues Alberta over right to speak at tar sands hearings
Government documents show precedent of province blocking Pembina’s participation in oilsands hearings because of critical analysis of government policies
EDMONTON, September 5, 2013 – The Pembina Institute was in court today appealing a Government of Alberta decision not to allow the energy policy think tank to participate in the regulatory review of a proposed in situ oilsands project, arguing the government broke provincial rules for public participation in the review of energy projects.
Also backing the Institute’s appeal are newly released government documents showing the province may have barred Pembina’s participation in a 2009 oilsands hearing after the Institute published reports critical of the government’s environmental management of the oilsands.
The Institute, as a member of the Oilsands Environmental Coalition (OSEC), filed a statement of concern with the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (now the Alberta Energy Regulator) to gain standing to participate in a hearing into Southern Pacific Resource Corp’s proposed oilsands project on the MacKay River near Fort McMurray. The hearing is the only means for those who are concerned about the potential impacts of the proposed project to raise those concerns with decision makers.
The proposed Southern Pacific Resource Corp in situ oilsands project would require up to 1.7 million litres of fresh groundwater every day and contribute to declining regional air quality. Further, the project would be located in the habitat of a declining caribou herd where disturbance already exceeds the threshold identified in the Federal Recovery Strategy for woodland caribou.
Yet documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests suggest that Pembina’s “recent oilsands publications,” along with the government’s perception that Pembina was “less inclined to work cooperatively” may have been reasons for rejecting the Institute’s statement of concern related to this project, and others.
“The Institute has provided credible research and analysis to support responsible oilsands development for over 20 years,” said Simon Dyer, policy director at Pembina Institute. “Pembina’s evidence and expert testimony at previous oilsands environmental hearings has resulted in better decision making, stronger operating conditions for oilsands companies and higher standards of environmental protection.”
Yet, in rejecting the Institute’s statement of concern about the proposed Southern Pacific Corp. project, the Alberta government has failed to honour already restrictive provincial rules limiting participation in energy project hearings to those who would be “directly affected” by the proposed projects.
“At a time when evidence is mounting that cumulative environmental impacts from oilsands are exceeding regional thresholds its essential that directly affected stakeholders with credible information get a fair hearing” Dyer said.
For more information, read the Pembina Institute Judicial Review Brief, and the Government of Alberta briefing note on reasons for rejection of Statement of Concern of Oil Sands Environmental Coalition.