Open Letter to Minister of Environment to Reject Teck Frontier Tar Sands Mine
Dear Minister Jonathan Wilkinson,
We’re writing to you as representatives of Indigenous and environmental organizations across Canada to ask your government to reject the Teck Frontier Mine proposal in northern Alberta. Frontier would severely impact the treaty rights of Indigenous communities, already stressed habitat for endangered species and Canada’s credibility in the fight against climate change. Proposed conditions do not address community concerns that were raised at public hearings into the project and do not effectively mitigate known adverse environmental impacts of the mine.
Canada has committed to address the impacts of colonization on Indigenous Peoples when it comes to residential schools or murdered and missing women, girls and two-spirit people through a model of Truth and Reconciliation. Indigenous rights are recognized in Section 35 of the Canadian constitution, numerous treaty agreements and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Yet, the Canadian government continues to push forward extractive projects that further dispossess Indigenous communities from lands, waters, and stable ecosystems critical to our cultures.
The Joint Review Panel (JRP) found Frontier will “result in significant adverse environmental effects on the asserted rights, use of land and resources, and culture of Indigenous groups who use the Project area.” Communities downstream of the project are already experiencing degraded ability to use our traditional lands and territories as a result of tar sands extraction over the last 60 years. The Frontier mine is proposed to be located only a mere 17km to the Indigenous settlement of Poplar Point, a reservation of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and within a traditional hunting and fishing grounds of many neighbouring Indigenous communities. It’s long past time for Canada to honour its treaties and respect Indigenous rights by rejecting the proposal.
Frontier also poses serious threats to the almost one million migratory birds that fly over the region, species at risk that depend on intact boreal forest habitat, and downstream waters of the Athabasca River. It threatens to destroy large portions of habitat for one of the only free-roaming disease-free herds of Wood Bison and it lies directly along the migration route for the only wild population of endangered Whooping Crane as they head to Wood Buffalo National Park to breed. Degrading the habitat that sustains these species will likely jeopardize their recovery, and proposed mitigation measures are unlikely to address these adverse effects.
This would be the closest tar sands development to Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Declines in ecological health within the park are linked to cumulative tar sands development upstream on the Athabasca River, and the project would only exacerbate these threats. Frontier would draw 24,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water each year or 2.76 billion m3 over the lifetime of the project, jeopardizing already threatened wetlands in the region and beyond. With adverse risks of tailings leaks, spills, and accidents on the park, the delta, and downstream communities, it is clear that the local environmental impacts are not justified.
Meanwhile, approving a massive new mine to extract high-carbon fuel for decades would be radically inconsistent with your government’s climate emergency declaration this year. During the election campaign, the Liberal Party committed to achieving economy-wide, net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, which is well within the lifetime of this project. Frontier’s upstream annual emissions alone are likely to be six megatonnes. Furthermore, the economic feasibility of the project is premised upon a growing global demand for oil which is incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2018 that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees “would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Teck Frontier Mine would instead entrench and extend business-as-usual. Even more recently, 11,000 scientists signed an open letter to the world’s policymakers that warned of “untold suffering” if humanity does not act quickly to combat climate change, saying “We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground.” That is how you treat the climate emergency like a real emergency. Your government also promised a Just Transition Act that could be the centrepiece of a broader strategy for creating good jobs that solve climate change, address inequality and respect Indigenous rights.
Canada cannot rise to this challenge while approving projects that violate Indigenous rights, threaten critical biodiversity and fuel climate change. Teck Frontier Mine has no place in the forward-looking country your government has repeatedly committed to building.
Please do the right thing and reject this proposal.