File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS About 80 per cent of Alberta’s oilsands are mined using in-situ production, rather than open-pit mining. Currently oilsands developments are assessed by the Alberta Energy Regulator, not the federal government.

Feds to exempt oilsands from new reviews unless Kenney lifts emissions cap

Ottawa is warning the new government in Alberta not to scrap the province’s legal limit on greenhouse-gas emissions from the oilsands if it doesn’t want to lose jurisdiction to review the environmental impacts of new oilsands projects.

The warning is implicit in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s proposed list of projects that will be subjected to a controversial new environmental-impact review process and has energy advocates crying foul.

The list, released for public comment Wednesday, says new in-situ oilsands projects, ones where steam and drilling are used to extract bitumen from deep underground, won’t have to go through the federal review process as long the hard cap of 100 million tonnes of annual greenhouse-gas emissions imposed by former Premier Rachel Notley stays in place. About 80 per cent of Alberta’s oilsands are mined using in-situ production, rather than open-pit mining.

Currently oilsands developments are assessed by the Alberta Energy Regulator, not the federal government.

The emissions cap was part of a deal Ottawa made to get Alberta to sign on to the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and was a factor in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

New Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, sworn into office Tuesday after defeating Notley’s NDP in an election last month, said lifting the cap is not on his priority list. Kenney said he doesn’t like the cap and never has but that it will be many years before the emissions from the oilsands get anywhere close to 100 million tonnes.

The most recent statistics show the oilsands emitted 72 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, a total that’s increased two to five million tonnes a year for the last decade.

Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, accused the government of politicizing the project list by inserting the cap requirement.

“Our worst concerns have materialized,” said McMillan.

CAPP argued in-situ oilsands projects should be exempted from the federal assessment process because the Alberta Energy Regulator is far better equipped to examine them than the federal government is.

McMillan said the cap is irrelevant at the moment because the prospect of hitting it is so distant, but he said Ottawa’s decision to mention it in the project list indicates the federal Liberals have not been listening to the concerns his industry has about Bill C-69, the law that would impose the new assessment regime.

The bill is in the Senate at the moment, where major amendments are expected to be proposed. The federal government has indicated a willingness to agree to amendments but has not said what amendments it will accept.

Trudeau promised the new assessment during the last federal election campaign, to overcome the obstacles to building new energy projects. Many had become mired in court challenges under the existing system. Environment groups largely approve the proposed changes in Bill C-69 but industry experts fear it will drive a stake through the heart of new investments in Canada’s energy industry.

The project list has been a missing piece of the puzzle in determining what the new bill will do.

Other energy projects that will be subjected to the new assessment process include major new interprovincial pipelines, large hydro dams and offshore wind farms, interprovincial electricity grids, new oil refineries and large electricity generating stations that burn fossil fuels. Non-energy projects involved include new interprovincial highways that are more than 75 km long; new rail lines longer than 50 km; and new dams, dikes, or water diversions.

Federal officials who briefed reporters about the list Wednesday said the project list was designed to include major new projects that are within federal jurisdiction and have the greatest potential for environmental risk.

Projects not on the fedlist will still be subject to reviews by regulators such as the national nuclear-safety commission, as well as any applicable provincial assessments. The environment minister can also designate a project for review by the impact-assessment agency even if it isn’t on the project list.

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