On March 5, 2008, the Federal Court of Canada remitted the
environmental assessment for Imperial Oil’s proposed
Kearl Oil Sands Project (the Project) back to the joint
federal/Alberta review panel that had recommended the Project
Estimated to cost $7.1 billion, the Project would involve
open pit mines and ore preparation, bitumen extraction and
tailing management facilities 70 kilometres north of Fort
McMurray, Alberta. According to Imperial Oil, the project would
be responsible for an average of 3.7 million tonnes of carbon
dioxide equivalent per year, equivalent to the emissions from
about 800,000 passenger vehicles.
Following an initial environmental impact assessment, the
federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recommended
that the federal Minister of the Environment refer the Project
to a review panel. After holding public hearings, this
federal/Alberta panel recommended that DFO approve the Project,
concluding that if proposed mitigation measures were
implemented, the Project was not likely to cause significant
adverse environmental effects.
The Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, Sierra
Club of Canada and other applicants challenged the review
panel’s recommendation, submitting that it relied on
technically and economically infeasible mitigation measures and
failed to provide rationale for its recommendations, contrary
to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the
panel’s terms of reference. The Court agreed in part,
ruling that the panel had provided insufficient rationale for
its conclusion that the Project’s greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions would not cause a significant adverse
environmental effect. In particular, the Court ruled that the
panel must explain why the Project’s proposed
mitigation measures, such as its intensity-based targets for
reducing its GHG emissions, would reduce these emissions to a
level of insignificance.
Outside the courts, some regulators have also shown
increasing attention to the climate change implications of
their environmental permitting decisions. For example, in
October 2007, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment
reportedly became the first government agency in the United
States to reject a proposed coal-fired generator’s
application for an air permit on the grounds that its GHG
emissions would threaten public health and the environment.
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Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change continues to roll out its Climate Change Action Plan with its proposed GHG guide for projects that are subject to the province's Environmental Assessment Act.
The Imperial Oil refinery pled guilty to one offence for discharging a contaminant, coker stabilizer, thermocracked gas, into the natural environment causing an adverse effect and was fined $650,000...
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