Shell tries to block Greenpeace, profs from oilsands hearing

Shell’s Oil Sands business extracts bitumen at the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Alberta and converts it to synthetic crude oil.



FORT MCMURRAY, AB - Shell Canada attempted to use changes to Canada's environmental assessment procedures to prevent Greenpeace from attending hearings on the company's proposed Jackpine oilsands mine.

In a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the body conducting the assessment of the proposed expansion, lawyers for the energy company argued that Greenpeace was not eligible to present at the public forums, scheduled to begin Oct. 29 in Fort McMurray.

Shell's lawyers argued that rules contained in the Conservative government's omnibus budget bill limit presenters to individuals and groups directly affected by the project or provide expertise.

The letter, dated Oct. 4, says Greenpeace, as well as two university professors, did not meet that criteria.

"Shell is concerned that allowing these parties to participate in the hearing as they have intended will threaten the integrity and fairness of the hearing process," the lawyers wrote.

The letter specifically targeted Greenpeace Canada organizer Keith Stewart, as well as Professors Anna Zalik and Isaac Asume Osuoka of York University.

However, Shell failed to achieve its goals.

Shortly after the letter was made public on Wednesday, the CEAA gave the three individuals permission to speak at the hearings.

But the panel said Zalik and Osuoka should not talk about Shell's operating history in countries like Nigeria, where the Dutch energy company has spent the last 20 years fighting accusations of supporting human rights abuses and a negative environmental reputation.

The CEAA argues information about Shell's operations outside Canada "is not relevant to the panel's review and therefore will not be considered in the hearing in any substantive way."

Although hearings have not yet started, the project is already raising concerns from local residents and scientists.

A report from Golder Associates concluded that the proposed expansion would push air pollution levels past acceptable limits defined in the province's environmental management plan for northern Alberta.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has filed a constitutional challenge, arguing that Shell and the federal government failed to properly honour existing treaties and consult them.

If approved, the Jackpine mine expansion will expand daily oil production capacity by 100,000 barrels, bringing mining production to a total of 300,000 barrels per day.

The expansion would include space for new mining and processing facilities along the east side of the Athabasca River, about 70 km north of Fort McMurray.

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