Teck Frontier mine poses ‘high mortality risk’ to bison and birds, Environment Canada says

Environment and Climate Change Canada raised a litany of concerns with Teck Resources’s proposed Frontier Oilsands mine during the last week of hearings.

Environment Canada was among several federal government departments that presented on Monday during the public hearing for the mega oilsands project.

Frontier is a $20.6-billion mega mine that’s undergoing public hearings in Fort McMurray before a joint review panel established by the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Frontier, which was first proposed as a four-phase project in 2011, would be built in two phases of 170,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) and 90,000 bpd with a planned mine life of 41 years.

The mine’s lease area, 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, covers 292 square kilometres.

Environment Canada joined the region’s First Nations in raising concerns about the impact of the mine on the health of the Ronald Lake Bison herd. The herd’s current range overlaps with the Frontier lease area. 

Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Range in relation to the Teck Resources Oilsands Frontier mine. (CBC News Graphics)

Susanne Forbrich, a regional director and the team lead for Environment Canada at the hearing, told the panel there is concern the mine would cause significant habitat loss for the wood bison herd.

Forbrich warned a loss of habitat would result in the depletion of the herd and facilitate disease transmission, as seen in other herds in Alberta.

“It is Environment and Climate Change Canada’s view that the project represents a high risk to the Ronald Lake herd,” Forbrich told the panel. “And that some of Teck’s mitigation measures are potentially uncertain or ineffective.”

Current bird deterrents don’t work: Environment Canada

Forbrich also raised concerns that the mine would kill migratory birds that breed in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Frontier represents a “high mortality risk” particularly for whooping cranes — one of North America’s rarest birds — and other migratory species, said Forbrich.

Environment Canada fears the mine would create more tailings ponds, which the cranes could mistake for a lake despite bird deterrent efforts, she said.

“This conclusion is based on evidence that whooping cranes land near the proposed mine, that whooping cranes have landed at existing oilsands mines and at tailings ponds despite the availability of bird deterrent systems,” Forbrich told the panel.

Environment Canada submitted a list of recommendations for bison, whooping cranes and other wildlife the proposed mine would impact.

When it comes to bison it’s calling for Teck to fund independent studies to understand the impact of the mine on the bison.

For whooping cranes, it called for the reduction of the size of tailings ponds and for the use of mitigation measures such as drones to patrol the area, and to fund studies into cumulative effects of the oilsands on migratory birds.

In documents filed with the joint panel Teck said it disagrees the Frontier Mine would pose a significant risk to the bison or migratory birds. But the mining company has agreed to fund studies to monitor bison and bird health and the effect of its mitigation measures.

Teck, First Nations and other groups are scheduled to cross examine Environment Canada and other federal agencies on Tuesday and over the next three days — the last week of the public hearings before closing statements. 

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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