Ottawa orders independent review panel for Suncor Energy oilsands mine extension

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CALGARY — Ottawa says it is referring the impact assessment of a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mine extension in northern Alberta to an independent review panel.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson says the review is in the public interest given the extent to which the open pit project could adversely affect areas of federal jurisdiction, and considering concerns expressed by the public and Indigenous groups.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is to work with the Alberta Energy Regulator to co-ordinate federal and provincial regulatory processes, including the potential for a joint review panel. Its next steps are to invite public and Indigenous comment on the draft impact statement guidelines and the public participation plan before finalizing both.

Suncor filed an application for the open pit mine development a year ago even though it said it won't be needed until 2035 when the nearby existing mine that supplies its Base Plant is played out.

At the time, CEO Mark Little said filing early is "prudent'' under the federal regulatory system, adding the project represents one of several options the Calgary-based company is considering and wouldn't be officially approved for development for at least a decade.

In its project application, Suncor suggests construction would start as early as 2026 so that the mine could be operational by 2030.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2020.

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