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Green Groups Banned From Hearings on Alberta Tar Sands

'Instead of addressing concerns, they are excluding concerned groups that are science-based and principled'

Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray in Alberta (Photo: Greenpeace / Jiri Rezac)

Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray in Alberta (Photo: Greenpeace / Jiri Rezac)

The Canadian province that is ground zero for tar sands oil extraction has prohibited a coalition of environmental organizations from participating in regulatory hearings on a controversial new oil industry development, claiming that the green groups are not directly impacted by the project.

The decision infuriated environmental campaigners who say Alberta's regulatory system is rigged to favor an oil industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment.

"Instead of addressing concerns about unchecked tar sands development, they are excluding concerned groups that are science-based and principled," said Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist for the Alberta Wilderness Association, in an interview with Common Dreams.

Oilsands Environmental Coalition—comprised of several green groups—is seeking a voice in a proposed new Alberta development by Southern Pacific Resource Corporation.

The project at issue is an in situ development, which "is where bitumen is too deep to strip mine and you drill and steam it out," according to Campbell.

In a March 27 letter, Environment Alberta official Kevin Wilkinson denied the coalition standing to participate in provincial regulatory hearings regarding the project on the grounds that the coalition is not directly impacted, according to Bob Weber writing for The Canadian Press.

The coalition says such claims are false, especially given that their members have a recreation lease in the area of the proposed project.

This is not the first time that the coalition has been banned from such hearings: a similar prohibition in 2012 excluded the coalition from stating concerns about a development on the MacKay River in northern Alberta, The Canadian Press reports. However, that prohibition was later overturned by a judge.

Furthermore, indigenous communities have been excluded from federal government panels reviewing tar sands developments that directly impact their environment and public health.

"There are so many exploration leases that are sold, without any public scrutiny," said Campbell. "The regulatory system is very tipped towards approving application after application to then develop these leases."

"We're surprised by this decision to deny standing to the Oilsands Environmental Coalition again, especially since it was ruled that Alberta had wrongly excluded us before," Simon Dyer, Regional Director of Alberta and the North for the Pembina Institute, told Common Dreams. "We will be challenging the decision and are confident we will be able to present our evidence at a hearing."

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