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News Release: Suncor Admits its McClelland Plan is Insufficient – Should lead Regulator to Revoke Approval

August 8, 2023

Suncor’s latest submission to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) admits that its submitted Operational Plan (OP) for the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex (MLWC) is insufficient and uncertain. This admission should provide further justification for the AER to revoke its approval of the OP, or at least proceed with Phase 2 of its Reconsideration Process.

According to its approval conditions, Suncor’s OP is supposed to demonstrate how they can guarantee the protection of the unmined half of this internationally significant wetland complex from the expansion of its Fort Hills oilsands mine in northeast Alberta.

AWA requested that the AER reconsider and revoke its approval of Suncor’s OP pursuant to section 42 of the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA) in March 2023. Following the submission of AWA’s April 2023 report, the AER opened a reconsideration process for its approval decision. Phase 1 of this Reconsideration Process recently concluded.

In Suncor’s final submission, delivered to the AER on Thursday, July 27, 2023, Suncor states that it is incorrect to presume that the company’s:

“…knowledge of and approach to sustaining the non-mined portion (NMP) of the MLWC is static and wholly captured within the OP.”

In other words, the OP does not fully explain how Suncor’s intends to protect the non-mined portion of the MLWC. Suncor expects the AER to believe they may have or might develop further knowledge or ideas outside of the OP which, together with the submitted OP, would amount to a full plan to guarantee the protection of the unmined portion of the MLWC. But the OP itself must provide this guarantee, and if those alleged outside elements are not included in the OP, as Suncor admits, then the OP is incomplete.

This admission by Suncor supports AWA’s primary argument from the outset that the OP does not satisfy the regulatory requirements set out by the 2002 Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) Decision, or the 2002/2015 Alberta Water Act approval conditions. In 2002, the EUB permitted mining roughly half of the wetland complex so long as the ecological diversity and functionality of the unmined portion is maintained, and that:

 “…surface mining, in situ oil sands activities, and any other activities that would potentially negatively impact the fen ecosystems would not be permitted.”

In addition, Suncor also argues that uncertainty in its plan should be tolerable, stating that:

“…uncertainty is not a reason to reconsider the OP. A degree of uncertainty always exists as plans are developed and uncertainty does not mean an activity should not be approved.”

However, AWA’s argument has not just been that the OP contains uncertainties, but rather that the plan contains so many uncertainties, with little consideration for those uncertainties beyond promises that these issues will be figured out eventually. Suncor’s OP fails to guarantee the protection of the unmined portion of the MLWC, and the company’s justification amounts to “trust us, we will figure it out as we go.” The AER should not permit a high-risk experiment of this magnitude to proceed.

Furthermore, Suncor’s argument is ironic, given that they have also argued that the reconsideration should not proceed because it would create “uncertainty in the regulatory process”. Clearly Suncor believes they should be given certainty that they will not be held to account, and that they should not have to provide certainty in return that they will fulfil their regulatory obligations.

This is yet another example of Suncor trying to shift the goalposts with respect to the regulatory requirements for its submitted OP. In Suncor’s previous submission, delivered to the AER on May 31, 2023, Suncor stated that:

“To protect the MLWC, the EUB ordered the convening of a committee of stakeholders and regulators to work towards the goal of minimizing damage* to the non-mined portion of the MLWC.” (*Emphasis added in bold).

This is incorrect. What the 2002 EUB Decision states with respect to this committee of stakeholders is as follows:

“The McClelland Lake Wetland Complex Sustainability Plan called for the creation of a committee of regulators and stakeholders to develop a management strategy to sustain the unmined eastern portion of the wetland and thereby satisfy the requirements of the amended IRP*.” (*Emphasis added in bold).

“AWA’s submissions to the AER have not argued whether Suncor’s OP can successfully minimize damage to the unmined portion of the MLWC,” according to Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist. “That’s because minimizing damage would mean that a certain amount of damage would be considered tolerable, which it is not, according to the approval conditions.”

Given these admissions from Suncor, the AER should revoke its approval of Suncor’s Operational Plan, or at least proceed with Phase 2 of the Reconsideration Process.

Suncor’s July 27 submission is publicly available on AWA’s website at the following link (below):

For more information, please contact:

Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist

(403) 771-1647

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