Calgary

EnCana donation questioned as company awaits energy decision

Some environmentalists are concerned a big donation by EnCana Corp. to the University of Calgary may affect a major energy application in southern Alberta.

Some environmentalists are concerned that a donation by EnCana Corp. to the University of Calgary may affect a major energy application in southern Alberta.

The oil and gas giant gave the school $1 million last week to create the EnCana Chair in Canadian Plains Mitigation and Reclamation.

The position, belonging to the environmental design faculty, will look at new ways for the energy industry to limit its impact on ecosystems in Western Canada, the university said.

But Joyce Hildebrand, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, questions the partnership, when a three-member federal panel — including a professor from the faculty — is set to decide on an application by EnCana.

EnCana has applied to drill 1,200 new wells in a grassland area of the Suffield National Wildlife Area in southern Alberta. A decision is expected by the end of January.

"The timing isn't good, and it's not the first time that timing like this has been used," said Hildebrand. "I can't speculate about EnCana's intentions."

Research chair a year in the making

She said EnCana made a similar donation to wetland research the day after an oil spill by another company in Suffield in September.

"That was interesting timing as well," said Hildebrand.

EnCana spokeswoman Rhona Delfrari, however, said the company has been talking about creating the research chair for more than a year.

"EnCana has full confidence in the independence of the University of the Calgary, and to suggest that the donation for the chair would in any way influence the panel's decision is actually an attack on the University of Calgary's integrity, as well as an attack on the reputation of the respected panel member," she said.

She said EnCana makes donations for only one reason.

"We do it because we see it as being in the public interest and to the benefit of society."

Loraine Fowlow, the faculty's interim dean, said there's no connection between the EnCana grant and environmental science Prof. Bill Ross, who sits on the federal panel.