McClelland Lake Concerns
McClelland Lake is surrounded by a highly fragmented landscape. The entire watershed is critically threatened by tar sands, conventional oil and gas, and forestry-related development. Numerous wellsites are located in the southwestern and southeastern parts of the area with about a dozen more scattered throughout the rest of the area. A wide pipeline corridor bisects the area, with evidence of ATV use and numerous clearcuts mar the watershed’s forests.
What’s happening to the Boreal Forest within the 3,450 km² (37 township) oil sands Surface Mineable Area (SMA) of northeast Alberta, can legitimately be described as an ecological holocaust. - Dr. Richard Thomas
A prosperous province can afford to preserve its natural landscapes and is the richer for it. - Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta
Fort Hills Tar Sands Project
- Fort Hills Energy, owned by Petro-Canada (at 55%, the “operator”), UTS Energy (30%), and Teck Cominco (15%), has been granted approval by the Alberta government to open-pit mine a priceless part of the world’s natural heritage.
- According to a 2002 TrueNorth document (Letter to Mr. Leo Piciacchia) the Fort Hills project will cover 138 km2 and will destroy 45% of the McClelland Lake patterned fen and 49% of the entire McClelland Lake Wetland Complex.
- Development of the mine pit will involve excavation depths up to 150 m below natural ground. The mining project will probably have catastrophic effects on the entire watershed.
- “The TrueNorth project will impact an area in excess of one township in size. This will effectively remove habitat for forest dwelling species for a distance of approximately 9 km from the Athabasca River.” (From Environment Canada’s submission on TrueNorth’s tar sands mine application)
- The Fort Hills project holds an estimated 2.8 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen, a billion of which underlies the McClelland Lake fen. This will support up to 40 years of continuous production in the area (Petro-Canada website).
- If the Fort Hills tar sands mine is allowed to proceed according to plan, McClelland Fen – one of the world’s most strikingly beautiful, ancient patterned peatlands – and half of its parent McClelland Lake Wetland Complex will be deliberately destroyed.
- “Peatlands, marshes, other wetlands, rivers and lakes all require maintenance of water levels and quality. Any activity that alters water level, flow regime or water quality within an environmentally significant area will result in some changes to that area.” (Significant Natural Features of the Eastern Boreal Region of Alberta, 1990)
- “The claims by True North Energy and SRD at the 2002 EUB Hearings that mining half [of the] MLWC would not impair the ecological function of the Complex or McClelland Fen are utterly devoid of credibility.” (Dr. Richard Thomas)
- AWA wants to secure full, legislated protection of the entire 330 km2 McClelland Lake watershed as a Provincial Park, with its two patterned fens designated Ecological Reserves. This entire area overlaps only about 2 % of the Surface Mineable Area (SMA). This watershed is the sole site within the 3,450 km2 SMA for which we are seeking protection. At present, a mere 0.1 % (4.13 km2) of the tar sands Surface Mineable Area (SMA) is “protected” (La Saline Natural Area). While Alberta Energy describes the creation of protected areas as “sterilizing the land,” it is becoming increasingly clear that Albertans care deeply about wilderness protection and a healthy environment.
- When (in March 2001) the Taliban blew up two, 1,600-year-old statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley for ideological reasons, they triggered a world-wide firestorm of outrage, criticism and revulsion. What will be the reaction of global public opinion upon learning about the government-sanctioned act of corporate environmental vandalism planned for the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex – a potential World Heritage Site – by Petro-Canada in pursuit of ever-greater profit?
Environmental Impacts of Tar Sands Development
- Tar sands processing plants are huge consumers of natural gas and fresh water and massive producers of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and acidifying emissions. Reliance on the tar sands also allows governments and industry to further postpone the development of more environmentally sustainable, alternative energy options.
- On average, oil production from tar sands generates three times more GHGs than conventional oil production. (Pembina Institute)
- From two to five barrels of fresh water are required for each barrel of oil extracted from tar sands.
- Alberta’s tar sands companies are currently licensed to use 26 percent of the province’s groundwater in addition to the water they take from lakes and rivers.
- “In 2003, Alberta was named the industrial air pollution capital of Canada with more than one billion kilograms of emissions – Syncrude’s and Suncor’s oil sands facilities were ranked number one and two respectively as Alberta’s largest polluters” (Pembina Institute, Oil Sands Fever).
- By 2010, it is estimated that total emissions of GHGs from Alberta tar sands projects could nearly double to 45 million tonnes per year.
- The David Suzuki Foundation calculates CO2 production from new tar sands projects will add almost 10 percent to Canada’s total emissions of this GHG.
- The water in tailings ponds is so toxic that propane cannons and floating scarecrows are used to deter wildlife from approaching them. To date, tailings ponds cover a total of 50 km2 of Alberta’s boreal forest. “The National Energy Board characterizes the problem of managing fluid fine tailings as ‘daunting’ – the volume of fluid fine tailings produced by Suncor and Syncrude alone will exceed one billion cubic metres by the year 2020, enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools” (Pembina Institute, Oil Sands Fever).
- According to True North Energy, the goal of “reclamation” is to achieve a “stable, sustainable and productive landscape.” This definition can be applied to Syncrude’s infamous 83 ha bison paddock – a woefully inadequate substitute for the mature, complex boreal forest it replaced.
- To date, no tar sands “reclamation project” has been certified by government. Reclamation is NOT ecological restoration.
- The tar sands mining trucks weigh 200 tonnes and each carries 200 tonnes, totaling 400 tonnes. Four scoops fill a truck. Two tonnes of sand eventually produce one bbl of oil. (Globe and Mail, 22 September 2006)
- In 2003, Alberta Environment reported that 430 km2 had been “disturbed” for tar sands. In 2004, the estimate for “disturbed” land went up to 950 km2. The most recent estimate is 2,000 km2 – a five-fold increase in three years. Two percent of the Alberta’s tar sands has been developed. (Globe and Mail, 22 September 2006)
- The McClelland Lake watershed is within Al-Pac's Forest Management Area (FMA). Their plans included logging south and northeast of McClelland Lake starting in 1997.
- Much logging in the area has been due to tar sands development. By 1995 land south of the Fort Hills had been cleared of timber for tar sands exploration.
- In the winter of 1994-95, lands south of McClelland Lake were logged by Northland and applications for new harvesting areas north of the lake had begun.
- Currently, the winter road to Fort Chipewyan is the only road passing by the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex.
- However, the watershed is crisscrossed with seismic lines, and a wide pipeline corridor passes through it, providing access to ATV users.
- During a flyover of the area in July 2006, AWA noticed ATV tracks on these linear disturbances.
- Petro-Canada plans to begin construction of their OPTA (out-of-pit tailings area) in 2008/09 and will be building roads to the area to accommodate this construction. The OPTA will straddle the McClelland watershed boundary.
- Additional roads will be built as the Fort Hills project is developed over the next few years.