Video: Teck Frontier mine puts our climate at risk

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Climate Campaigner Peter McCartney travels to Fort McMurray, Alberta to voice opposition against the Teck Frontier mine at their public hearings. The proposed mine would be a carbon disaster with direct emissions comparable to adding almost 900,000 vehicles to the road. The mine's lease area, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, covers 292 square kilometres.


Good morning to the panel my name is Peter McCartney. I'm the climate campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. I want to thank you for the opportunity to come here and present our great concerns about the Teck Mine and its impact on the global climate. The Wilderness Committee – I'm here on behalf of our 60,000 supporters across the country. We work to protect wild species and spaces and our climate campaigns are a core part of that. The truth is that a lot of the work that we've done to create protected areas and protected species at risk would be undone if we do not get the climate crisis under control. 

Before I start I will note there are some discrepancies in my original submissions and the ones I'm using today. I've decided to defer to Mr Jan Gorski's research for Pembina, his analysis was a little more thorough. Mine was based on the average emission figures for tar sands mines. 


There are many excellent localized reasons to consider which have been covered by my colleagues extensively but this presentation – being that I'm not from here – will focus on evaluating the Teck Frontier Mine against provincial, federal and international climate goals. I will also note, you know, there's a distinction between upstream and downstream emissions. We think that this is largely arbitrary but necessary for analysis and the project's impact on specific climate goals. Although we strongly encourage the panel to evaluate all the associated emissions with this project and can suggest methodologies for doing so. 

Teck Frontier’s means blowing past Alberta’s climate cap

So, Mr Gorki's research in terms of Tech's provincial impacts shows that the six megatonnes that this project would create will push Alberta above the 100 megatonne cap that was legislated earlier and is still yet to be implemented. The start of operations in 2026 means this project would come online around the same time Alberta's forecasted to hit this cap. Almost certainly pushing Alberta over the provincial limit, some projections put the point of reaching this cap as early as 2024 whereas government projection from Environment and Climate Change Canada predict this in 2030. Although details of this cap remain forthcoming, considering it is such an indispensable piece of provincial and federal climate policy, I think it would be prudent for the proponent and this panel to consider that it will be stringent in its measures when it comes forward. 

Unfortunately, Teck in its response to the panel about this question offered no supporting evidence to its claim that the project will not exceed this cap or that the cap may not be reached at all. The ability for the company to justify itself within this cap is important and I think the panel should be very strict in considering that. There's also – there's no indication from other tar sands producers that they will be able to reduce the amount of carbon emissions within their projects in order to allow for Teck to create that extra six megatonnes in project emissions. 

Teck offers in its submission a list of 20 mitigation measures, everything from running its trucks on LNG to using LED lighting. But these opportunities are being evaluated as potential opportunities. There's no commitments in there to use them and most of them clarify – or qualify – that there's more research to be done before they can be implemented. Nothing Teck or CAPP can provide has shown us that this new mine will fit within the climate goals of this province and I think that's a large concern. 

Alberta’s economy versus its climate commitments

As Alberta evaluates these projects based on the environmental impacts versus the economic analysis in a carbon-constrained world where people are working to reduce their carbon emission I think it's useful to evaluate the amount of economic benefits based on each tonne of carbon that is entering the atmosphere. 

Teck forecasts up to 2,500 jobs once this project is in operation which translates to 2,413 tonnes of CO2 for every employee every year. 

For comparison, the agriculture sector in Alberta created 71 tonnes of CO2 per job. You know I come from a farming family in rural Alberta and asking them to pay more for the gas to run their combines and electrify their operations at the same time to allow Teck to continue to increase the amount of carbon pollution coming from this one industry is fundamentally unfair.

It also risks putting an increasing economic burden on all the other sectors of Alberta's economy at a time when Alberta needs to be diversifying to chart a path to prosperity in a decarbonizing world. It's not only a rhetorical flourish that I say we actually have a choice in between doubling down on fossil fuels or a green economy. If you disadvantage every other sector of the economy in order to continue growing the most polluting sector, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Alberta should leave it in the ground

Alberta has a decision to make. It is in the unfortunate position among oil producers in the world of having to relinquish much of its unconventional oil reserves first. They will be stranded in a world that is reducing its carbon emissions because of the very costly nature of our product in Alberta and the high carbon it creates. A study in the journal Nature in 2015 into the geographic distribution of fossil fuels that have to be left in the ground under scenarios where we hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius shows the production from open-pit bitumen mining drops to "negligible” levels after 2020, due to the considerably less economic nature of these methods. Under the most realistic scenarios that don't rely on carbon capture storage technology, which even if it could be scaled up to the speed which it needs to be would only make these projects even more uneconomic, tar sands production is finished by 2040. That's just three years after phase 2 of this facility would come online. And because of the high upfront costs to these projects, I think it is likely operations will continue to proceed even if Teck had to sell its product at a loss in decades to come. 

And that's what we're talking about today is by allowing this mine to go forward we could be in a situation where it's uneconomical to produce the product but we're still pumping that carbon into the atmosphere. It's a scenario we have to avoid at all costs and with the risks, we've seen presented this week – the economic risks – I think that it's irresponsible to move forward and allow this project to potentially put us at both economic and environmental risk. 

Honouring Canada’s climate commitments 

But of course, Alberta's emissions don't happen alone. The federal government has also committed to a 30% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 of 187 megatonnes. I was born in 1991, my entire life governments have been setting (climate)* targets and failing to meet them. At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, we promised emissions – to reduce emissions – to 1990 levels by 2000. Instead, we increased them by 19% to 730 megatonnes. Under the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 we committed to reduce emissions to 6% below 1990 levels, instead, we cut them 3.5% and that was due largely to the global financial crisis in 2008.

In Copenhagen, we introduced a new target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Canada's auditors general in a first of its kind report forecasted we will still be 9% away from meeting that goal even if the Pan Canadian Climate Framework (PCCF) is fully implemented. And with the election of a provincial government in Ontario which is opposed to climate action and an impending Alberta election that may be off the table as well. Finally in the Paris Agreement in 2015 Canada announced its target of 30% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 and we're predicted, if all goes right, to miss that target by 8%. And if politics change and if the PCCF falls apart we'll sail past it by 30%. And the reasoning why I'm outlining this is that we cannot just take it on faith that we can keep approving projects like this that add 6 megatonnes here and 8 megatonnes here to our carbon levels when the evidence shows us that we should not be adding any emissions to these totals because governments struggle, as much as they – governments have such a tough time meeting these targets. 

Canada's Government is failing to meet climate targets

A key reason why they fail to meet them is that these goals exist in silos. These policies don't talk to each other. Natural Resources Canada is fueling and trying to exploit resources in Alberta where Environment and Climate Change has the opposite goal. This panel is not required or even able to review a mine like Teck within Canada's climate goals because the federal and provincial government can't outline where they're going to get these additional six tonnes of emissions reductions. They can't even outline where they're going to get the 187 megatonnes they have to reduce by 2030. That's not to mention the 573 megatonnes we have to reduce by the middle of the century when this project will still be a decade away from the end of its life. Canada has a goal of cutting emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050 and allowing the tar sands to expand to more than 2/3 of that target is by all accounts both unacceptable and impossible. It would mean we would have to wedge the entire rest of the Canadian economy into less than 1/3 of that target. And the only time we've seen emissions reductions like that have been through an economic downturn. It would essentially require imploding much of the rest of the economy. 

If Canada wanted to be able to gradually clean this industry by reducing emission intensity while continuing to produce more and more oil and approve more and more megaprojects like Teck Frontier Mine they needed to start 30 years ago, when we first knew the extent of this problem. But now we are at the point where the science tells us the only options available to hold global warming to safe levels are absolute, across the board reductions.

We can’t have Teck Frontier and achieve Canada’s climate goals

Teck Frontier Mine doesn't even align with the existing goals much less the level of ambition required and committed to in Paris in 2015. Our own targets that we brought were called woefully inadequate by the current government when it was in opposition and they don't line up with the 1.5 – the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as set out in the Paris agreement. That agreement is designed for ambition to be ratcheted up over the next several decades. We're supposed to be able to come there in five to 10 years and say this is the progress we have made towards these targets and here's how we're going to do better. 

Teck Frontier would be similar to the entire GHG emissions of Cuba or Angola or Switzerland.

Considering that the Teck Frontier Mine doesn't even align with our current targets I think it's irresponsible to allow it to move forward. So all nations came together in 2015 at the Paris agreement – or the Paris Climate Summit – to commit to limit global warming to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. On a global scale, the Teck Frontier Mine would add 36 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and for reference that's similar to the entire greenhouse gas emissions of Cuba or Angola or Switzerland and this is a globally significant project when you look at the total emissions related to it. 

To reference, sort of the worst case scenario for where this is heading, the IPCC RCP 8.5 scenario: the business as usual trajectory projects warming of 2.6 to 4.8 degrees. A world that Professor Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research describes as, quote, "incompatible with an organized global community, likely to be beyond adaptation, devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high probability of not being stable." Now I'm not suggesting that this one project puts us on a path to that business as usual trajectory but the fact that that's even on the table should give the panel pause in reviewing this project and its emissions because I think approving – continuing to approve tar sands mines and increasing production from this industrial megaproject is the definition of business as usual.

Teck Frontier sets the trend to putting us over a 2 degree Celsius limit on global warming

A report from Oil Change International titled "The Sky's the Limit" outlines the global carbon budget that we have to remain within in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. It recommends “no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built and governments should grant no new permits for them.” It also suggests that existing mines will need to be shut down before the end of their life because the amount of oil, gas and coal reserves that we have ready to exploit, approved and on company's books will take us over that 1.5 to 2-degree limit. Now that may seem like heresy in the current political climate but it's worth mentioning that the. It's worth mentioning that that's exactly what's happening with coal power here in Canada, including Alberta. Coal plants are being retired before the end of their usable life and in the coming decades, we will be having this same conversation about tar sand mines. We will be having to have government programs to retrain workers and give communities, like Fort McMurray or like Hanna, Alberta the chance to chart a new path forward in a carbon-constrained world. 

By that logic, it is irresponsible to add to that problem by approving the Teck Frontier Mine and setting this project up for failure when we know we're going to have the conversation that it cannot move forward. 

The demand for oil will drop like coal

The industry will point to international energy agency forecasts that show oil demand rising for the next several decades but it's important to note the International Energy Agency forecasted a 2% annual growth rate for coal 10 years ago that would last until 2030 instead coal demand 1.9% for the last two years. 1.9% last year, for the second year of decline in a row. And now the agency predicts an annual flatline for the next decade. That means that any new coal mine that is coming online in 2018 has nowhere to send its coal. The demand isn't there for it. And I think Teck will be facing a similar world when it comes online in 2026 in terms of demand for oil. Research from the Carbon Tracker Initiative puts the peak of oil demand at 2025 it also suggests a period of, quote, "rapid change on the downslope of that curve that features significant destabilization of the business model of incumbent industries." So once oil demand peaks, that downslope in that down curve is where we start to see companies face serious economic problems and although the world will still be producing and consuming oil, as demand falls, new and especially some of the most expensive projects in the world will face economic chaos. 

We're putting it all on black just as the board is turning red.

In a world that's working to meet its climate goals and actively working, Teck Frontier would start its operations with global declining demand for oil making its product even less economically viable. Effectively, by approving a mine like this continuing to double down on our current economic model in the tar sands we're putting it all on black just as the board is turning red. And I don't think that's a responsible thing to do economically or environmentally. 

This project is betting on humanity to fail

Not only would approving this mine make it – would be effectively betting on humanity to fail in its climate commitments – it actually would make it harder to do so. We're not looking at this in isolation and there's a lot of international attention on this industry, as you know, in Canada. By continuing to approve these mines and go forward – what message are we sending to developing nations? Countries like Mexico, India and the Philippines have ambitious carbon reduction plans that – They are working despite millions of their citizens living in poverty to be able to reduce emissions. By continuing to approve these projects – they see a wealthy, developed, diverse economy like Canada – if we aren't able to take that action then why should they? Why should they be disadvantaging and spending more to be able to reduce their own carbon emissions? 

And globally we've suffered from this vicious cycle of inaction for decades. We can't do it again. We finally had a chance in 2015 with the entire world coming together and saying we're going to reduce our carbon emissions. If we don't pay attention to those emission targets and if we show up in another few years and they've been completely ignored – that's our chance to solve this problem. 

Canada must be an example of climate action

Conversely, I think Canada could show the world that we're serious about fighting climate change. People are paying attention. These countries that are reducing their emissions are paying attention and by actually sticking within our climate targets we can send that message. That we are going to lead the way into this low carbon economy and be an example for how we will create a just transition for the workers here in Fort McMurray that countries can follow as they move forward. That's all I'd like to say about the Teck Frontier Mine project. 

Panel speaks

A thank you to the panel for listening and I hope you take these climate concerns seriously. Thank you, Mr McCartney. Any questions from Teck? 


Thank you Mr Chair we just have a couple of questions for you Mr McCartney. My name is Alison Doble. I'm AER council for the joint review panel and again I have just a couple questions for you on behalf of the AER staff in attendance today. So you've provided an analysis of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per rates of employment and I'm just wondering if you could discuss how this analysis would look like hypothetically if you related GHG emissions in relations to the gross economic benefit of this particular project, such as government revenues. 


In terms of government revenues, I have not done that analysis. I focused specifically on jobs I think that there's no doubt that this industry provides revenues to the government of Alberta but I think over the last couple of years have shown us that decades of relying on a notorious boom and bust industry for – to supply social services for Alberta have resulted in the situation that we're in now where this government is sort of chained to that industry. To be honest I haven't done that analysis but I imagine it would look different from the agricultural sectors would look. 


In the opinion of your organization does the carbon tax paid by Teck over the lifespan of their operation act as a mitigation for the effect of GHG emissions that are created by this project?


Certainly, it acts as a mitigation but with Alberta pulling out of the Pan Canadian Climate Framework recently increase to the carbon tax increases to the carbon tax are not expected any time soon. And to be honest, a $30/tonne is mostly window dressing at this point, especially considering the model the Alberta government has chosen on output-based subsidies and so much of that carbon tax that they would be paying comes back to oil producers based on the amount of oil they produced. So, it is a mitigation measure but not nearly enough to mitigate the significant climate impact of this project. 

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