TORONTO (Reuters) - Greenpeace Canada blasted a lawsuit brought against it by Syncrude Canada Ltd, saying the move was designed to intimidate critics of the sprawling oil sands developments in northern Alberta.
The suit comes after Greenpeace protesters targeted a waste-water pipe at Syncrude's Aurora mine, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on July 24, demanding a halt to rising crude production from the oil sands, which the environmental group says is wrecking the environment.
"This is a punitive lawsuit designed to financially cripple a non-profit organization and intimidate critics of the tar sands," Mike Hudema, oil sands campaigner for Greenpeace, said in a statement on Friday.
"Syncrude does not want a lantern hung on the world's dirtiest oil project."
Protesters put a cap on the pipe to a toxic waste-water pond at the mine site.
They also raised a banner that read "World's Dirtiest Oil: Stop the Tar Sands" and placed a skull-and-crossbones flag on another pipe into the tailings pond.
The tailings pond garnered global attention earlier this year after 500 ducks died after landing on the waste water, which contains byproducts of heavy metals and other toxins.
"We are seeking an injunction for them not to trespass on our site in the future and put themselves at risk and our people at risk," said Alain Moore, a spokesman for Syncrude.
He added that the protesters had trespassed in an industrial area where there is large, complex mining equipment.
"We do know the oil sands is a topic of debate and discussion in Canada and we want to be an active part of that debate," said Moore.
"We just feel that trespassing on a site and putting lives at risk isn't an effective way to debate."
Syncrude is also seeking damages of C$120,000 ($113,000).
Greenpeace is calling for the Alberta government to stop approving new projects to exploit the region's massive oil sands, which hold the biggest petroleum reserves outside the Middle East.
Syncrude, the world's largest producer of synthetic crude oil, is a joint venture owned by Canadian Oil Sands Trust, Imperial Oil Ltd, Petro-Canada, ConocoPhillips, Nexen Inc, Nippon Oil Corp unit Mocal Energy Ltd and Murphy Oil Corp.
Reporting by Jennifer Kwan; editing by Rob Wilson