CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A coalition of church leaders will fan out across northern Alberta next week for a fact-finding mission that will help formulate an official stance on the environmental impact of oil sands development.
Officials with Kairos, a multidenominational social justice group, joined by some aboriginal leaders, will talk with oil sands developers, labor organizations, local authorities and congregations about the impact of the massive energy projects, an issue garnering global attention.
Kairos’s work could prove controversial as many members of faiths that are part of the organization work in, or benefit from, the oil sands industry while others oppose it, Sara Stratton, education and campaigns coordinator for Kairos, said on Thursday.
“That’s why you spend a lot of time talking and thinking it through, and why you don’t make decisions from an office in Toronto,” Stratton said.
The delegation includes leaders from the Anglican Church of Canada, Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian Church of Canada, United Church of Canada, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, among others.
Alberta’s oil sands represent the largest deposits of crude outside Saudi Arabia, and are seen as a major source of secure energy supplies for the United States.
Environmental groups have mounted major campaigns to spotlight the impact of mining and processing on air, land and water.
They have concentrated on high emissions of greenhouse gases, deforestation and toxic tailings ponds, where more than 1,600 ducks were coated with oil sands residue last year and were killed.
The industry has responded with its own campaign to emphasize efforts to reduce environmental impacts of the massive resource by cutting fresh water use, reclaiming oil mine sites and studying carbon capture and storage.
The Kairos delegation, which will also include officials with the Dene Nation in Canada’s north, Gitxsan First Nation in British Columbia and Oil Watch International in Nigeria, aims to eventually develop an ecumenical consensus on a series of points.
“But the individual churches, they will also develop their own policies, probably, as a result of this trip,” Stratton said.
“So the United Church, for example, would probably have a period of reflection based on its experience, and the Catholic Bishops would have a similar conversation. Depending on the structure of the church, that would filter down or go into a larger dialogue.”
The delegation visits Fort McMurray, Edmonton and aboriginal communities between the two centers, as well as Fort Chipewyan to the north from May 21 to 27.
Editing by Frank McGurty