CFS helps launch new legal fund to fight new tar sands developments

July 20, 2009

UK citizens are being urged to join a Canadian Cree First Nation in their fight against one of the biggest environmental threats facing the planet.

The Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) wants people to support the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in their legal battle to stop energy companies extracting further oil from tar sands within their ancestral lands in Alberta, Canada.

Tar sands extraction is energy and resource intensive, creating an average of three times as many emissions as conventional oil production. Scientists have predicted that the carbon emissions from shale oil and tar sands would initiate a continual unfolding of climate disasters over the course of this century.

In addition, the exploitation of tar sands also risks local ecological disaster as pristine boreal forest is cleared and watercourses are polluted, making impossible the traditional way of life of indigenous communities.

The Beaver Lake Cree’s legal challenge seeks to enforce recognition of their constitutionally protected treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather plants and medicines within their ancestral lands. In order for these rights to have meaning, they want the ecological integrity of their traditional territories and the boreal forest upon which they depend to be protected. The case cites over 17,000 infringements of their rights and will ultimately seek to halt new developments.

A charitable trust was launched today (20th July 2009) to help raise funds for the legal case with CFS making the first donation of C$100,000 (£53,000).

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at CFS said: “The Beaver Lake Cree’s legal case maybe one of the last and best hopes to stop new tar sands developments.

“This small group of 900 indigenous people are taking on not just the Governments of Canada and Alberta but some of the biggest companies in the world.

They have the support of Canada’s leading lawyer on aboriginal law, who has a track record of winning such cases. But they are going to need financial support – and lots of it. Forget the lawsuits against ‘big tobacco’, forget Erin Brockovich, this is the big one.”

Chief of the Beaver Lake Cree Al Lameman said: “It is an enormous source of strength to receive the goodwill and support of people in the UK. We are facing powerful and wealthy opposition, but we remain firm in our resolve to protect these lands from destruction. Our fight is your fight.”

Shells, BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Total all have existing or planned tar sands projects that could be impacted if the Cree Nation’s legal action is successful.

The public can donate to the legal case via CFS’ Toxic Fuels campaign website:

Notes to Editors:

  1. When the ancestors of the Beaver Lake Cree signed a treaty with Canada in 1876, they ceded vast tracts of land in exchange for guaranteed treaty rights to hunt and fish within those territories. In order for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s rights to have meaning, they claim the habitats of the fish and wildlife they depend on must be protected throughout their ancient homeland. The large-scale deforestation, wildlife disturbance and pollution resulting from tar sand developments threaten these treaty rights. Asserting their role as caretakers of their traditional territories, The Beaver Lake Cree Nation have brought a legal challenge to force Alberta and Canada to keep their promises and to protect the ecological integrity of these lands.
  2. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s legal counsel is Jack Woodward, author of Native Law, Canada’s principal legal text on aboriginal law. Jack has been working in this field for 30 years and has been the lead lawyer on some of the most groundbreaking First Nation’s rights cases in the Canada. Including the Meares Island case where the British Columbia court granted an injunction stopping the logging of old growth forest on the basis of an aboriginal right. More recently, he won the Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia and Canada suit. This case laid the groundwork for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation case. It says that lands and forests must be developed in a way that gives primacy to the sustainability of First Nation’s rights.
  3. The Co-operative Financial Services’ C$100,000 (£53,000) donation to the Beaver Lake Cree legal case will contribute to wildlife impact assessments, human disturbance mapping, and scientific studies on the impacts of tar sands developments on the boreal forest and the local watershed. More information on the charitable trust can be found at:
  4. In February 2009, The Co-operative Financial Services provided £50,000 funding for the filming of elder depositions, which will document the Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s folklore and traditional way of life, and the threats to this way of life by tar sand developments. Some of the videos will be used in court and some in campaigning, and they will also act as a historical record documenting a culture and a community under threat.
  5. Shell’s Orion Hilda Lake tar sands project is within the area potentially affected by the Beaver Lake Cree legal case and currently produces 10,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), with approval for growth to 20,000 barrels this year and potential to produce 40,000 bpd. BP announced earlier this month that it has started evaluating its Kirby tar sands leases in the area, which could support production of up to 70,000 bpd. Other affected tar sand developments include: ExxonMobil’s Cold Lake project currently producing 150,000 bpd, with plans to increase production to 180,000 bpd; the Christina Lake and Foster Creek projects in which ConocoPhillips has a fifty per cent stake and currently produce 50,000 bpd, with plans to increase this to 400,000 by 2015; and ConocoPhillips and Total’s joint Surmont project which currently produces 27,000 bpd and has plans to expand to 193,000 bpd.
  6. Canada is thought to have probable tar sand reserves of 315 billion barrels and proven currently accessible reserves of 175 billion barrels; this is second only to Saudi Arabia’s proven conventional reserves. More than US$125 billion of tar sand projects have been announced for development by 2015. Shell has announced an intention to produce 670,000 barrels of oil daily from Canadian tar sands by 2020, while ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips are also hoping to produce several hundred thousand barrels each per day.
  7. If all 1.1 trillion barrels of probable North American unconventional oil reserves (both tar sands and shale oil) were exploited within the next century, it would result in emissions of 980 Gt CO2, equating to an estimated increase in atmospheric CO2 levels of between 49 and 65 parts per million. The consequences of these additional emissions could be catastrophic given that global atmospheric levels are already at 430ppm CO2e and exceeding 450ppm CO2e significantly increases the risk of dangerous climate change.
    Dangerous climate change is defined as warming of more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, whereby stresses upon the world’s water resources, food production capacity and ecosystems increase significantly. To stand a reasonable chance of avoiding this, atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gasses must not exceed 450ppm CO2e. Achieving this will require global emissions to peak by around 2015 and at least halve by 2050, with developed nations making more substantial cuts of around 80%. 

More information on The Co-operative Financial Services ‘Toxic Fuels’ campaign and a pdf version of WWF-UK and CFS’ high profile report ‘Unconventional Oil: Scraping the bottom of the barrel?’ can be found at: