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Co-op to help fund oil sands legal fight

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By Ed Crooks in London

Published: February 26 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 26 2009 02:00

The UK’s Co-op banking and investment group is paying £50,000 ($71,000) to fund a legal action in Canada that could block the development of the country’s oil sands by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

The money will be used to fund evidence-gathering for the case being brought by the Beaver Lake Cree nation, an aboriginal community in Alberta, the province where the oil sands industry is based.

The Beaver Lake Cree argue that their rights to hunt, fish and gather plants in the area, granted by treaty in 1876, have been violated because of pollution created by oil sands developments.

Shell, which is a big investor in the oil sands, and BP, which began looking at a possible investment only relatively recently, would be less affected than some other companies active in Alberta if the case were to succeed.

However, the legal action keeps up the pressure on an industry that is hated by environmentalists and threatened by political opposition and financial difficulties caused by the fall in the oil price.

Co-operative Financial Services, the mutually owned UK group that includes the Co-op bank, is supporting the case as part of a campaign against the oil sands that it is launching this week.

It plans to spend £500,000 in its campaign against what it describes as “toxic fuels”, in association with the WWF, the environmental group.

Co-operative Asset Management, a socially responsible investment fund that is part of the CFS group, last year urged British companies to abandon any plans for further oil sands developments.

The industry has been a lightning rod for environmentalists because of its carbon dioxide emissions, which are typically higher than for conventional oil production, and because of its effect on the area, which is scarred by huge open-cast mines and ponds that collect polluted waste water.

Aboriginal communities have taken varying attitudes to the industry.

The Beaver Lake Cree, who are further away from the heart of the developments than some, say the animals they would traditionally hunt, such as caribou and elk, have been either driven away by the disturbance caused by the oil sands projects or contaminated by the industry’s pollution.

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