This is an interesting story that could have wide reaching implications. A Federal Court decision has sent Imperial Oil’s $7 billion Kearl oil-sands project in northern Alberta back to a review panel over concerns over greenhouse gas emissions.

Yesterday’s ruling will force harmful emissions to be much more carefully considered in future assessments, says a lawyer who argued the case. “This is something which will clearly apply to every single oil-sands project that comes before environmental assessment of any kind,” said Sean Nixon, a lawyer for Ecojustice Canada.

The Kearl project, expected to produce up to 300,000 barrels of synthetic crude oil a day, would eventually strip-mine about 200 square kilometres of boreal forest and wetlands north of Fort McMurray.

The proposal was approved last month by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn after an Ottawa-Alberta review panel concluded the project’s environmental effects were manageable. It said Imperial’s promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of oil reduced that problem to “insignificance.”

However Ecojustice and the Pembina Institute asked a Federal Court to overturn the panel conclusion on which Hearn granted the approval. Although Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer ruled against the environmentalists on a number of issues, she agreed with their climate change concerns.

Tremblay-Lamer pointed out that even though Imperial planned to reduce the intensity of Kearl’s emissions, the project would still increase overall greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere by the equivalent of 800,000 cars.

“Given the amount of greenhouse gases that will be emitted to the atmosphere and given the evidence presented that the intensity-based targets will not address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, it was incumbent upon the panel to provide a justification for its recommendation”, the Judge ruled.

Could be an important precedent…