Another day, another court room battle concerning big oil. This time its oil sands in the dock. Imperial Oil’s (majority owned by Exxon) fight to win the right to drain muskeg at an oil sands project begins today in an Alberta courtroom.

At a time of intense public scrutiny of the region and the way the oil is extracted from the ground, the stakes have never been higher. At stake is the proposed $8-billion Kearl oil sands mine as well as the widening debate about the ecological costs of oil sands.

Without the permit, Imperial and Exxon, its 30-per-cent partner in the Kearl mine, can’t go ahead with plans to drain the boggy muskeg at the Kearl site, 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Losing the permit could set the companies back a year or more behind on the project.

The case is also being closely watched by the energy industry as a powerful and tangible reminder of the expanding risks ambitious oil sands developers face when building multibillion-dollar projects.

“The federal government did the right thing by revoking the permit for the Kearl project,” said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. “Instead of launching unnecessary court proceedings opposing this revocation, Imperial Oil should be focusing on how to reduce the gargantuan greenhouse gas, smog, and toxic liquid tailings that their tar sands project would emit.”

“When the expectations of society change, companies have to change and adapt accordingly,” replies Pius Rolheiser, an Imperial spokesman said. “Companies that don’t change and adapt will be in trouble.”

How about really adapting and pulling out of oil sands altogether…