The Pembina Institute is a Canadian non-profit think tank that advances sustainable energy solutions through research, education, consulting and advocacy. They have put together a position paper on Shell Canada’s Jackpine oilsands mine which started production in 2011 and now is slated for expansion.
Located roughly 70 km north of Fort McMurray on the east side of the Athabasca River the Jackpine mine is approved to produce up to 200,000 barrels of bitumen per day. In late 2007,Shell released a proposal to increase production at the facility by 100,000 barrels per day by establishing additional mining areas and associated processing facilities, utilities and infrastructure.
Under Canadian law, large projects like oilsands mines and mine expansions trigger a cumulative effects assessment (CEA) to determine what impacts the project will have on the environment, combined with other developments in the area. The assessment is also meant to inform decision-making about whether, given those likely impacts, approving the project is in the public interest.
Pembina argues that the Jackpine mine expansion project, Shell Canada’s initial environmental assessment failed to take into account at least 11 planned oilsands projects, logging plans for forest companies that share the same landscape, mandatory exploration disturbance from over a million hectares of oilsands leases. The Pembina Institute’s analysis found that, by failing to take these and other known disturbances into account, Shell’s application would underestimate the cumulative environmental footprint in the region by a factor of 12.
Shell’s environmental report is the first to outline the cumulative effects of damage to wildlife habitat, water and air quality if all the oilsands projects planned until the 2020 go ahead. Of 22 species, 13 would lose more than 20 per cent of their critical habitat, with some bird species losing up to 60 per cent.
The $12 B Jackpine expansion project, 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, would bring in $17 billion in taxes and royalties over its lifespan and create 750 permanent jobs. Construction will require 4,000 workers.
Its a classic damage to the environment vs. economic benefits case. Pembina has allied itself with other members of the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition (OSEC) to make its case before the regulators. The Joint Review Panel for the Jackpine Mine Expansion Project is an independent body, mandated by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the Chairman of the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board to assess the environmental effects of the proposed project and ultimately decide whether it is in the public interest.
This is a large and important project not only to Shell but to other oil sands producers. Pembina has crafted strong arguments.