Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps
Victoria’s mayor, a vocal critic of the environmental impact of Alberta’s oilsands, is set to get a first-hand look at the industry.
Lisa Helps, who helped pass a Victoria City Council motion last January to launch a class-action lawsuit against fossil fuel companies, will tour the Cenovus in-situ steam-assisted gravity draining operation at Foster Creek near Cold Lake on Friday.
But the one-day trip won’t include a stop at open-pit oilsands mines or the tailings ponds they produce further north, said Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison.
“We’ll see what we can fly over on our way,” said Davison, who has an energy industry background and will accompany Helps on the tour along with industry officials.
“The big villain is looking at the open pit mines but we forget the majority of the activity takes place underground… Nobody’s disguising the fact truck and shovel operations exist.”
He said Helps chose the Cenovus site at Foster Creek on the Cold Lake Air Weapons range and that the visit is limited by time constraints.
Steam generators at the Cenvovus Foster Creek in-situ operation. Steam is injected deep underground to separate oil from sand.
But Helps on Thursday said she provided no requests or direction on what she hopes to see.
“I haven’t spoken directly with my hosts … I said I was coming for the day and for them to show me what’s needed to be shown to me,” said Helps in a text message, adding her office has been in touch with her Alberta hosts.
“I’d be happy to see a strip mine or anything else.”
The industry says 80 per cent of oilsands reserves are recoverable by the less-intrusive in-situ processes.
In response to Victoria councillors’ opposition to the industry’s activities, Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland invited the lawmakers to tour oilsands installations, while praising the sector as environmentally sustainable and a boon to B.C.’s economy.
He also pointed out fossil fuels are vital in linking Vancouver Island to the rest of the world by air and ferry.
Since then, Helps has expressed second thoughts about the lawsuit approach, saying legal action would take too long amid a fast-developing climate crisis.
In a press release on Thursday through the group Action Canada which is helping host the visit, the Victoria mayor said she’s obligated to see the oilsands in person.
“I have a responsibility to gain a wider perspective, and that’s why I’m coming,” she stated.
“I don’t necessarily know if I’ll change my mind or not, but I’m certainly coming with an open mind.”
Davison said the effort to promote the oilsands transcends Alberta interests.
“This is a Canadian story that affects us all,” Davison said in a blog post.
“The tour demonstrates that as an industry, we value being open and transparent about the development and extraction of product, and are always willing to promote fact-based knowledge to address misconceptions as they may arise.”
Earlier this week, federal government scientists released a report stating aerial monitoring detected significantly higher emissions from oilsands plants than had been reported by industry.
Davison said that study will undoubtedly come up during the visit but added it shouldn’t be “taken as gospel.”
“There are just as many scientists who will say otherwise — we have to look at the larger perspective,” he said.
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn