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News Release: Alberta Energy Regulator fails Albertans by Ignoring Evidence; Won’t Reconsider its Approval of Suncor’s Flawed Operational Plan for McClelland Wetlands

November 24, 2023

Suncor has permission to expand mining at their Fort Hills oil sands mine into the wetland area in 2025.

An aerial photo of the charismatic McClelland patterned fen, which has formed over the past 8 to 11 thousand years. Suncor’s Operational Plan poses a significant risk of irreversible damage to the wetland complex if its permitted to proceed. Photo © Phillip Meintzer.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has made another highly irresponsible decision by declining to reconsider its approval of Suncor’s flawed Operational Plan for the mining of the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex.

The AER made its decision despite the opinions of several experts, and despite the scientific evidence submitted by AWA to the AER in March 2023 which highlighted several major concerns with Suncor’s Operational Plan. Suncor is legally obligated to outline how it can guarantee the protection of the unmined half of the wetland complex during construction and mining activities. AWA’s independent report showed that Suncor’s plan was insufficient and seemed likely to result in significant and irreversible damage to the unmined half of the wetland complex.

Some of the concerns raised by AWA’s report included:

  • Unaddressed potential saline contamination of freshwater;
  • Lack of modeling for potential impacts to groundwater quality;
  • Insufficient observational data for hydrological model calibration;
  • Uncertainty and risk with proposed water management plan;
  • Assumption of negligible impacts from predicted water level changes;
  • Unrecognized impacts to the ecological integrity and functionality of the patterned fen, and
  • Unrecognized impacts to peatland carbon stores and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Under Section 42 of the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA) the AER may, in its sole discretion, reconsider a decision made by it and may confirm, vary, suspend or revoke the decision in extraordinary circumstances where it is satisfied that there are exceptional and compelling grounds to do so.

Despite the evidence provided in AWA’s report, the AER has made its decision to not reconsider its approval on the basis that:

“…the AWA has not presented any new information which demonstrates exceptional and compelling reasons for the AER to reconsider its decision to issue the Approval.”

And because:

“…we view the AWA’s failure to participate in the MLWC Sustainability Committee as problematic for its case for a reconsideration.”

Upon AWA’s initial review of the AER’s decision letter, there seems to be very little substantive justification provided as to why the AER feels that AWA’s submitted report and other submissions do not contain new, exceptional and/or compelling information. It appears as if the AER is ignoring the evidence.

AWA has consistently turned down all invitations to participate on Suncor’s Sustainability Committee because our participation would be equivalent to tacit approval for an Operational Plan which allows for the destruction of at least half of the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex.

“AWA has a public interest mandate to advocate for the protection of Alberta’s wilderness areas and it would be a direct conflict to this mandate if we were to participate in the development of a plan that permits a relatively in-tact 10,000-year-old peatland to be mined,” says Phillip Meintzer, Conservation Specialist with AWA.

In discussions with Indigenous community members who will be impacted by Suncor’s mine expansion and who participate on Suncor’s Sustainability Committee, we have heard that community concerns have not been adequately acknowledged in the process, and that community members are grateful that AWA made the decision to remain outside the Sustainability Committee from the start. They feel that it’s been helpful to have organizations that can remain critical and outspoken from outside the committee.

AWA is still reviewing the AER’s decision in greater detail and will share more in the coming weeks.

“This decision does not mean the end of AWA’s efforts to protect McClelland from mining,” said Phillip Meintzer.

For more information please contact:

Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist
(403) 771-1647
pmeintzer@abwild.ca

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