Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he needs more information from Teck Resources Ltd. to decide if the company’s commitment to net-zero emissions will influence Ottawa’s approval of its proposed new oil sands mine.
On Monday, Teck announced its commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 “across all operations and activities.” The pledge appears to be in line with Canada’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by the same date, and adds to the pressure Ottawa is under to approve the massive Frontier oil sands mine in the face of vocal opposition from environmental groups.
The federal cabinet must decide to approve, reject or delay a decision by the end of February.
Mr. Wilkinson welcomed Teck’s new goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, but said the promise lacks detail needed to fully understand the impact.
“I certainly have some questions about exactly what they mean and how they’re going to implement that,” Mr. Wilkinson said. For example, he pointed out that carbon neutral can be defined in different ways and because the company has defined it at the corporate level, he doesn’t know what the pledge means for each of Teck’s projects.
He added, though, that there are issues outside of the company’s carbon neutrality pledge that need to be addressed before the government will make a decision.
The company clarified Monday that its pledge will apply to all projects, including the proposed Frontier mine.
“Our objective is to be carbon neutral across all of our operations and at every operation," Teck’s director of public affairs, Doug Brown, told The Globe and Mail. He said the company will prioritize policies that avoid new emissions and directly reduce current emissions over investing in nature-based solutions or purchasing carbon offsets.
The company’s pledge applies to what are called Scope 1 and 2 emissions. That covers direct and indirect emissions related to an operation.
Teck’s announcement on Monday makes “an even stronger argument for approval" of the Frontier mine, Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs said.
Ottawa faces strong opposition no matter what it decides. The Alberta government has framed the decision as a national-unity issue and a key test of the Liberal government’s commitment to helping Alberta in its economic recovery. However, environmentalists view the decision as a measure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sincerity in tackling climate change.
A joint-review panel found the mine, which would produce 260,000 barrels of oil a day, was in the public’s interest despite “significant adverse project and cumulative effects” on the environment and Indigenous communities. Even if the federal government approves the project, it doesn’t guarantee it will be built. Last week, the company’s chief executive officer Don Lindsay added the project is also contending with weak energy prices, steep development costs and pipeline-capacity issues.
Building the oil sands mine would add to the challenge Canada already faces in meeting its international targets. Over the next decade, Canada needs to cut another 77 megatonnes in emissions to meet its goal of limiting emissions to 511 megatonnes in 2030. The mine would add another 4.1 megatonnes in emissions annually once it’s fully operational.
Mr. Wilkinson said the project will be measured in the context of the government’s climate change targets. “There’s no way around that,” he said.
The project’s impact on species at risk, including bison and whooping cranes, are other factors that will be considered, he added.
With reports from Tim Kiladze and Andrew Willis