By the time the Frontier mega-mine proposal died a swift and unexpected death last week, the proposal had taken on a national significance that dwarfed even the 29,000 acres of forest and wetland it sought to take over.
To Alberta’s United Conservative government, its approval would indicate whether Prime Minster Justin Trudeau really supported the oilsands. To environmentalists, it was a scourge.
But to Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based company behind it, it was a chance to balance oilsands development with environmental rigour, in a project they believe should have satisfied both sides. But, they argued in their letter to the federal environment minister, Canadian regulations have not caught up.
Global markets are changing fast, Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck, wrote in the letter last weekend.
“Investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change,” he said.
“This does not yet exist here today.”
But if it’s true that oilsands projects are now forever tangled up in the climate change debate, observers say Alberta isn’t learning that lesson.
Mike Holden, the vice-president of policy and chief economist of the Business Council of Alberta, said he was surprised that the provincial budget had lots of plans for what they hope is a coming upswing in the oil industry, but almost nothing to say about climate change.
“I think that there was an opportunity that the province could have taken to spell out a climate strategy that could have helped with investor confidence, that could have helped with sending a message to the federal government that it was serious about working in this area, and it didn’t do that,” he said.
“That’s not to say that it might not at some point down the road, but it was fairly silent.”
The budget has one reference to the global challenge that is climate change, and notes that Alberta’s “global leadership in clean energy and (greenhouse gas reducing) technologies is also key to investment attraction.”
It also includes their TIER, or Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction, program, which places a $30 per tonne tax on large emitters. According to the budget, it will put $969 million into climate technology and emission reduction over 3 years.
Despite Teck’s lengthy letter, Alberta government officials don’t believe that the Teck cited the real reason for cancelling the project.
When asked about Teck’s decision in advance of the budget being tabled Thursday, Finance Minister Travis Toews cast the blame east.
“We have a federal government who didn’t categorically affirm its support for a project that’s gone through in every environmental hurdle put in front of them,” Toews said.
“The fact that the goal posts were seemingly, potentially to be adjusted at the last minute has a profound effect.”
In this, Toews echoed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has put the blame for the cancellation at the feet of rail blockade protesters across the country who have been affecting transportation for nearly three weeks, as well as federal inaction.
On Monday, Kenney said “there is absolutely no doubt” that the blame for the decision lies with the federal government and called for action from Ottawa to restore investor confidence in the province.
But Chris Severson-Baker, the Alberta regional director of the Pembina Institute, says sound climate policy is a major way to attract investors. It’s possible to pursue climate goals while still investing in oil development, he said, but there should be incentives for projects or types of development that are lower in carbon.
He said he was disappointed to see little talk of climate in the new budget, especially as the current federal government plans for Canada to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
He points to the oil industry leaders who have publicly supported a carbon tax. He says that many in the industry realize that many big oil projects now have to prove their green bonafides to get approval.
“Until this is resolved, it’s going to be a barrier to make further investments in Canada and in Alberta,” said Severson-Baker. SOURCE