Climate activism kills Frontier Teck monster tar sands project


SCORE A BIG ONE FOR CLIMATE ACTIVISTS. The Frontier Teck monster tar sands project in Alberta is dead. But Jason Kenney is not. In fact, the loss may even be a gain for the petrochemical premier.

The Frontier Teck loss gives Kenney a bright, shining “defining moment.” He can hold the loss up as a symbol of everything Alberta is up against; point to it as in-your-face proof of the depth of the treachery that he says surrounds Alberta; and use it to support a call for every “true Albertan” to rally ‘round him and rise up against it all.

An excuse to knuckle up

Kenney instantly latched on to the death of the Teck Mine project as an excuse to knuckle up and unleash a full-frontal attack on all his favourite bogeyman: environmental activists, the federal government, and all others like them, who do not share his personal vision of eternal prosperity for Alberta by giving Big Oil all it wants, wherever it wants it, whenever it wants it.

The Teck Frontier mine would have fit right into that vision. But it was always an over reach. As much a test of just how much Big Oil could get away with, as a solid business venture. It’s almost as if it was set up to trigger outrage.

Imagine it: the Teck Mine was to be a tar sands open pit mine about half the size of Toronto, the largest in the world, visible from space, using the dirtiest and most hazardous extraction technologies, right next to a national park and smack dab in the middle of Indigenous territory. It was, from the get go, an oil extraction project from environmental and Indigenous reconciliation hell.

A monster in the making

If the Teck Mine had been approved it would have:

  • Generated carbon emissions equal to nearly one third of our entire planet’s remaining carbon budget; that is, the 4.4 million people in Alberta would use up emissions meant to cover 2.5 billion people—577 times more than their fair share;
  • Used inferior extraction technology that would have been 24 per cent more carbon intensive on a per-barrel basis than the best project;
  • Eliminated wetlands, peatlands and forests of jackpine, aspen, spruce and poplar, along with approximately 2,598 hectares of these old-growth forests;
  • Gone into operation with no clear understanding if it would, or even could, clean up the site once mining was finished;
  • Lasted 46 years until 2066

The proposal had no supporters beyond Big Oil. It was the target of sharp and broad public criticism that included everyone from Hollywood celebrities, to everyday folks in protests from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

Nobel prize winners urge ‘moral clarity’

The proposal was so bad 42 Nobel prize winners signed an open letter calling on Justin Trudeau to “act with the moral clarity required by the state of this crisis and reject the proposed Teck Frontier mine proposal.”

More than 170 Alberta doctors wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau to express deep concerns about potential health risks connected to the project. The federal-provincial panel that approved the project in July admitted there was legitimate cause for concern. They warned: “there will be significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities.” In the end, however, they were satisfied “these effects to be justified.”

Noted environmental activist Bill McKibben pointed out federal approval of the proposal would shred any Canadian claim to serious carbon emissions control. He wrote: “If an alcoholic assured you he was taking his condition very seriously, but was also laying in a 40-year store of bourbon, you’d be entitled to doubt his sincerity, or at least to note his confusion.

“Oil has addled the Canadian ability to do basic math: more does not equal less, and 2066 is not any time soon.”

As much as the Teck Mine proposal seemed like madness to environmental activists, some detect a devious Machiavellianism at work. “You could see it as a win/win for Big Oil,” says environmental activist Bob Forsey. “If they had gotten away with it, it would have been ‘happy days are here again.’ Now that they haven’t, they can guilt us into approval of other dubious projects. Just like when your 8-year-old asks for a pony but then settles for a new bike.”

It’s a scenario Jason Kenney is already working for all he’s worth. But the looming reality of rising climate change activism, bound up with the desire to recognize and reconcile Indigenous grievances from before confederation and the stark reality of an end to the fossil fuel era may prove to be a tiger not even he can ride.

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