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Mining the Canadian tar sands: CCS-Project Quest; Pollution of Athabasca River; Concerns of the Canadian Aboriginals

From pages 20 & 21 of “Royal Dutch Shell and its sustainability troubles” – Background report to the Erratum of Shell’s Annual Report 2010

The report is made on behalf of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands)
Author: Albert ten Kate: May 2011.

CCS-project Quest

Shell’s Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP, Shell share 60%) is planning a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project, called Quest, near to its Scotford Upgrader. The total cost of the project is projected to be USD 1.35 billion. The province of Alberta (USD 745 million) and the government of Canada (USD 120 million) are willing to pay most of the costs. The plant is planned to be commissioned at the end of 2015.

The CO2 will be permanently put under the ground during an estimated 25 years at a depth of over 2,000 meters, in a saline formation, with a maximum of 1.2 millions tonnes of CO2 each year. In a recent report quantifying the GHG reduction benefits from the CCS-project, the facilities were assumed to operate with 90% availability, capturing 1.08 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The full lifecycle emissions of the CCS-project itself were estimated to be between 0.16 to 0.24 million tonnes of CO2, around 20% of the annual capture. Conclusively, the project is estimated to reduce 0.84 to 0.92 million tonnes of CO2 annually.109 AOSP emitted 3.7 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents in 2009110, while its production stood at 78,000 barrels per day. Considering an already planned 440,000 barrels per day tonnes of production by AOSP and in- situ by Shell before 2020, the CCS-project will only partly compensate for the increasing emissions due to deriving fuel from oil sands compared to fuels derived from conventional oil.

Pollution of Athabasca river

A study by the University of Alberta, released July 2010, indicates that the oil sands industry could be the source of substantially increasing pollution to the Athabasca river and its tributaries via air and water pathways. In the period February – June 2008, samples were taken at about a hundred sites. The oil sands industry was found to release 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act. Canada’s or Alberta’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven PPE (cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc) in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development. According to the authors, their findings confirm the serious defects of the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP), which has not detected such patterns in the Athabasca river watershed. Based in part on results from RAMP, the industry, government and related agencies claim that human health and the environment are not at risk from oil sands development and that sources of elements and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC) in the Athabasca river and its tributaries are natural.

Concerns of the Canadian Aboriginals

First Nations is a term of ethnicity that refers to the Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Me?tis. In northern Alberta, Aboriginal communities rely on the land, water and wildlife for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, harvesting, navigation and ceremonial, recreational and domestic uses such as bathing, cooking and drinking. The communities are increasingly concerned about the negative impacts of the oil sands developments: ? Communities, especially those living downstream, have expressed interest in effective and strong watershed protection. In 2009, seven communities testified that they had significant concerns about deteriorating water quality or river flows in the Athabasca watershed. For example, the Mikisew Cree First Nation has experienced an increased incidence of cancers found in the population of Fort Chipewyan, located directly downstream from the most intensive oil sands development. They fear that this may be due to water pollution from oil sands development.

? The caribou is an important species to many Aboriginal groups, for cultural and spiritual reasons. In 2008, Canada’s Environment Ministry released a report showing that due to cumulative development activities, all caribou herds in northeastern Alberta are now considered non-self-sustaining. The east side of the Athabasca River caribou herd, whose range includes much of the current in situ oil sands development in Alberta, has declined 71% since 1996.

Currently, oil sands mining operations are licensed to divert 604 million cubic metres of water annually from the Athabasca River Basin, which is equivalent to the needs of a city of three million people. As production increases, oil sands companies have the ability to withdraw the licensed amount. Although water use is often presented as a percentage of average annual flows, the amount of water used during low flow periods is of most concern, especially since the water is not returned to the river system after use as it would be with municipal uses. In July 2010, the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations said the proposed Government of Alberta framework to manage water withdrawals would not protect the interests of these communities during low flow periods. First Nations are concerned that water withdrawals from the Athabasca River system reduces river flows, threatening fish populations during low flow periods, and the health of the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

Further extracts from the report will be published in the coming days.

THE COMPLETE 73 PAGE REPORT (with reference sources)

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