Canada oil sands firms not fearful of legal action

Thu Jan 8, 2009 3:36pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canadian oil sands producers, under fire from environmental critics, do not fear increasing legal challenges to their operations while they try to polish their public image, executives said on Thursday.

As part of a campaign to respond to Canadians' concerns about the environmental impact of multibillion-dollar oil sands developments, the industry released a poll showing half of respondents don't believe its officials' comments to media.

The survey of 850 people also showed 46 percent do not believe the energy sector has done a good job balancing the environment and the economy, while 22 percent do.

Such numbers show the need to improve communications, but recent court challenges to oil sands projects and operations by environmental groups are not cause for alarm, executives said.

"I wouldn't say we have any fear at all," Bruce March, chief executive of Imperial Oil Ltd, the country's biggest oil producer and refiner, told reporters.

"I think the key thing to keep focused on is these projects have been developed in the past following the rules and regulation of the federal and provincial governments. Those work processes include collaboration with citizens."

On Wednesday, the group Ecojustice and its allies took the first step to convince a judge to lay charges against Syncrude Canada Ltd for the deaths of 500 ducks that had landed on a toxic tailings pond at its northern Alberta site last spring.

Also last year, groups including the Pembina Institute and Prairie Acid Rain Coalition successfully appealed the approval for Imperial's proposed C$8 billion ($6.8 billion) Kearl oil sands project in Federal Court, causing a temporary delay.   Continued...