The Conservative government’s recent decision to push ahead with Shell’s Jackpine oil sands expansion despite its own review that the project would have “significant and unmitigated environmental impacts” is alarmingly short-sighted.
The Jackpine mine is one of multiple oil sands projects that sit on Northern Alberta land where the Athabasca River runs through. The area is one of the most biodiverse wetlands in Canada, home to protected fisheries, species at risk, as well as treaty rights. It has long been the home and traditional hunting, fishing and trapping grounds of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations (ACFN).
The expansion, which allows Shell to increase their bitumen production by 50% or 100,000 barrels per day, would require that almost 186,000 hectares (or 718 square miles) of wetlands be destroyed. The amount of land annihilated for this expansion is equivalent to the size of a small country. To give you an idea for comparison sake, the land mass of Singapore is 710 square miles, the Jackpine mine expansion is slightly larger.
Shell’s own assessment is that the area’s wetlands will be permanently lost or altered and the federal government’s review panel warned that the severe and irreversible damage would be so great that new protected areas should be created to compensate.
To that degree, Shell has been magnanimous in purchasing “about 730 hectares of former cattle pasture” in northwest Alberta to help compensate for the extra 8,500 lost hectares of wetland (for a total of 13,000 hectares used for mining and with no mention of the 185,872 hectares that will be impacted by it); a compensation package worth little more than 5%. In other words, for every one hundred hectares of biodiverse land taken for oil sands mining, Shell will compensate Canada five hectares of grassland. If you use the amount of hectares destroyed, then the compensation drops to less than half of one percent.
To be fair, Shell claims the Jackpine mine expansion will create 750 jobs and $17 billion in royalties and taxes. One wonders if the latter figure is based on the ignominious 10-15% Canadian corporate tax rate (*note* the personal income tax rate averages 25%). And 750 jobs, when there are almost 600,000 Canadians out of work (this not counting those who can no longer receive EI benefits and are now on social assistance or worse), represents an employment benefit of little more than one percent. Is this what Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq thought was acceptable when she decided that “the significant adverse environmental effects that the designated project is likely to cause are justified in the circumstances”?
Greenpeace’s position that the Harper government put the short term and negligible (*my words) interests of oil companies ahead of environmental protection and First Nations treaty rights is valid and worth noting. The Conservative party’s willingness to blindly pander to Big Oil is ethically myopic.