From left, Kyran Auger, of Keepers of the Water, Bonwen Tucker, Oil Change International, Batul Gulamhusein of Climate Justice Alberta and Nigel Henri Robinson with Beaverhillls Warriors held a press event to call on the Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to reject the proposal and recommended approval of the Teck Frontier Mine in Northern Alberta on November 22, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / PostmediaShaughn Butts / Postmedia

By GRAHAM HICKS

Why would the Alberta government be so damned stupid as to propose another surface mine in the oilsands?

No matter the science, the optics stink.

Yet another vast, oily, tailings pond, huge intrusions into Mother Earth, vast disruptions of the beaver, the fox, the bear and the caribou. All the oilsands stuff that the Rest of Canada hates … and many Albertans are equally uneasy about.

The federal Liberal government is committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To that end, its core political support is near 100 per cent in favour of curtailing Canadian oil and gas production.

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The majority of Canadians — everywhere except in the oil and gas parts of the country — see solar and wind power as spiritual, romantic, natural and good. The digging up and burning of fossil fuels is evil.

Renewable energy will save the planet. Burning oil from the “tar sands” will kill us.

The Teck Frontier Mine proposal already dead in the water, well before a federal decision — yes or no — on the proposed new oilsands mine comes down in February.

Of course federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson will refer the final decision to cabinet.

Of course — for the reasons above — the federal cabinet will turn it down.

The lack of logic in Alberta’s hard-nosed push for another oilsands mining operation is even worse, considering the alternative.

In-situ oilsands extraction projects — where the messy stuff happens underground without scarring the surface, without massive tailings ponds — are more environmentally acceptable, are economic to build and operate, and are less of a reputational risk compared to seeking yet another surface mine/tailings pond project.

In fact, pushing for another surface mine is genuinely absurd within the current global and Canadian climate-change mindset.

Especially when in-situ production is so much cleaner — when aerial photos show cute, tidy, small industrial footprints surrounded by all-natural boreal forest. Compare that image to photos playing up the industrial sprawl of oilsands mining operations and their massive tailings ponds.

Besides, in-situ production has been the way to go in the oilsands for the past decade! Since 2016 more barrels of oil per day are being produced from in-situ projects than from the open-pit mining operations.

Again, this is not about science. Proponents can argue until they are blue in the face about new technology, First Nations support, less water, etc. etc.

It’s about perception, optics, emotion and the need for the current federal government to keep its political supporters happy.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is the last thing from stupid. He knows all this.

He knows in-situ oilsands projects are far more politically and environmentally acceptable than yet another massive surface mine/tailings pond on which National Geographic Magazine can pour yet more pictorial poop.

One has to conclude Kenney is building a grander political strategy. Toward what end I’m not sure, but it’s pretty clear.

Shove pepper up Trudeau’s nose, then call him sneezy.

If the Trudeau government turns down the Teck Frontier Mine proposal, as Kenney knows it will, he’ll blast that decision as yet more evidence of the anti-Alberta, anti-resource development bias of Ottawa. He can build enough political capital within Alberta to aggressively push for more independence from Ottawa as per the Quebec example.

Or is this the “feint within the feint within the feint”?

Is there an unspoken Alberta-Ottawa understanding here? Under all the public posturing and belligerence, a quiet deal?

Ottawa, you can turn down the Teck Frontier Mine … if you make sure the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion goes through in a timely fashion, if you proactively support at least one more pipeline and you approve dozens more in-situ oilsand projects without making a fuss.

There has to be a bigger agenda. That our UCP government would make an open pit/tailings pond mining operation a hill on which to die makes no sense.

Not when the same increased oilsands production can be obtained, at the same cost, in a less controversial, more environmentally acceptable, in-situ fashion.