Teck Resources withdraws application for major Alberta oilsands project
TORONTO -- Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. has announced that it is withdrawing the regulatory application for a major Alberta oilsands project that was up for approval by the federal government this week.
Teck Frontiers was an oilsands mine estimated at $20 billion that was proposed to be built in northern Alberta, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
Teck CEO and President Don Lindsay said in a letter to the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change that they had made the “difficult decision,” to withdraw the application, which was set to be voted on this Tuesday in Ottawa.
“Global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products,” the letter states. “This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved.
“In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.”
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson and Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan issued a joint statement late Sunday where they confirmed that cabinet would no longer be making a decision in the matter and that they respect Teck’s “difficult decision” to withdraw.
“Important parts of Canada’s economy have been built on our natural resource sector and the workers across the country who have powered it for generations,” they said in the statement. “Our government is committed to developing our natural resources sustainably and to creating good, middle class jobs. A strong economy and clean environment must go hand in hand.”
The Frontier project would’ve gone into production in 2026, and produced more than 250,000 barrels of oil each day. This would amount to roughly four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year of its production.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter Sunday night that the withdrawal of the application was “devastating news for the Canadian economy.
“Alberta has lost the opportunity for 7,000 jobs and Canada has lost the opportunity for $70 billion of dollars in new tax and royalty revenue that could have funded our generous social services over the next four decades.”
The news comes only hours after the Alberta government announced that they had made agreements with two Indigenous groups in the area regarding the project.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s office said in a statement that the prime minister has spoken to Kenney about Teck’s decision and they both agree “on the importance of Canada’s natural resource sector to our economy.”
“The prime minister reaffirmed the government of Canada’s commitment to working with Alberta and the resource sector to keep creating good jobs and to ensure clean, sustainable growth for Canadians,” the statement reads.
The statement goes on to say that Trudeau and Kenney also spoke about the ongoing rail blockades and the impacts they’re having on Canada’s economy.
Since it was announced, the Teck Frontier project has faced overwhelming criticism from a variety of environmental groups, as well as physicians and public figures.
Keith Stewart, Senior Energy Strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said in a statement to CTVNews.ca that the project “didn't make economic or climate sense.”
“Now that it's off the table, hopefully we can focus on projects that will create real jobs solving the climate crisis,” he said.
Stewart added that Greenpeace will be providing a more detailed comment on Monday.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) called for the government to not dismiss community concerns regarding potential increases in cancer rates, food contamination and pollution in a letter signed by 175 health experts.
More than 40 Nobel prize winners, including Canadian author Alice Munro and numerous scientists, had signed a letter which appeared on the Guardian’s website on Friday and called for the government to reject the Teck Frontier project.
The letter called the project a “disgrace,” and pointed out that the expansion of the fossil-fuel sector is “wholly incompatible with (the Canadian government’s) recent commitment to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.”
More than 100 youth climate activists had even planned a hunger strike in Ottawa to stop the project.
Canada is one of the worst polluters per capita in the G20, according to a November report from Climate Transparency. And the province with the highest emissions in the country is Alberta.
A Joint Review Panel report put out in July of 2019 for the Frontier project stated that “although we find that there will be significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities … we consider these effects to be justified and that the Frontier project is in the public interest.”
The company’s website promised that the project would produce 7,000 jobs during construction, and 2,500 jobs during regular operations, something that locals had hoped would inject energy into an economy still hurting from a drop in oil prices and the 2016 wildfires.
However, despite the company’s assertions that the project would be economically viable, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), an organization that looks into the economic issues related to the energy sector and the environment, said in a January of 2020 statement that Teck Frontier had exaggerated their potential profits by basing them a long-term oil price projection “in excess of $95 per barrel,” for much of 2026-2066, which IEEFA called “overly optimistic.”
On Friday, Teck Resources released their fourth quarter results for 2019, which showed disappointing returns compared to their 2018 numbers.
In the letter announcing Teck Resources’ decision to withdraw the application, CEO Don Lindsay said that they “are not merely shying away from controversy,” by withdrawing.
“Frontier, however, has surfaced a broader debate over climate change and Canada’s role in addressing it. It is our hope that withdrawing from the process will allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward,” he wrote. “Ultimately, that should take place without a looming regulatory deadline.”
The letter also added that the company was proud of the “strong relationships” it had formed with communities in the region, particularly Indigenous groups.
Teck Frontier had benefit agreements with 14 Indigenous groups in the area. Some Indigenous elders opposed the project, saying the mine would “destroy this land completely,” but others believed that the job opportunity could not be dismissed.
Speaking to CTV News before the announcement of Teck Frontier’s withdrawal, Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Metis Community Association, said that the dialogue that communities had been able to have with the company gave him more faith in the project.
He also spoke of the need for there to be “an evolution of our Indigenous people,” He said his people “lived on the land and used furs as a means to be able to live,” in the past.
But when the fur trade dried up, he said, “ultimately, what it did was kill the economy for our community, so our people had to go out and find other ways to make a living, and that was in the oil sands.
“If they were to turn the oil sands off tomorrow, my community would starve.”
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins