Selected oilsands projects may avoid new environmental assessment rules

OTTAWA — Oilsands projects that use steam to release bitumen from deep underground will likely get a pass from new federal environmental assessment rules — but Ottawa is still considering how to deal with those that use solvents instead of water.

An official with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s office says consultations are still ongoing over which of the so-called “in situ” projects will trigger a review under the new Impact Assessment Act.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no final decisions have been made, says oilsands projects that liquify oilsands bitumen with steam will likely be exempted, provided Alberta agrees to its oilsands emissions at 100 million tonnes.

That’s because in situ projects fall outside federal jurisdiction, unless their emissions are an issue — something existing Alberta law is already equipped to deal with.

The use of solvents instead of steam is an emerging technology that the official says raises additional questions beyond climate concerns that still need to be examined.

Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence says the government is caving in to pressure from the oil industry at the expense of the environment, adding that Alberta’s emissions cap doesn’t even officially exist yet and could easily be repealed by future governments once it does.

Patrick McDonald, director of climate and innovation for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says in situ projects shouldn’t require federal permits because existing provincial review processes provide sufficient oversight.

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