Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s Case against Shell


On September 30, 2011 the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) filed a lawsuit against Shell Canada for unfulfilled terms of agreements between ACFN and Shell regarding Shell’s existing tar sands mines.  These agreements were meant to ensure Shell would provide measures to lessen impact of these mines on ACFN, including agreements to address environmental issues and mitigation. Shell received permits to begin tar sands operations in 1956 and is now one of the largest operators producing close to 20% of overall production with projects directly on Indigenous lands.

Shell has not honored these agreements with ACFN leaving many commitments outstanding. ACFN members and others have observed that Shell’s operations are harming the environment and ACFN’s rights and culture, the impacts of the failed agreements contribute to the following:

  • lost opportunities to conduct environmental monitoring in the ACFN’s traditional territory during the development of Shell’s projects; and
  • lost opportunity to mitigate impacts and potential impacts to ACFN aboriginal and treaty rights caused by the development of these projects.


  • Polluted water and contributed to low water levels in the Athabasca and Muskeg Rivers.
  • Shell has exceeded surface water quality, ground water quality and air quality values at the Muskeg River Mine.
  •  Fish and wildlife have been impacted by poor water quality downstream of oil sands. There are only 3 Fishery officers for all of Alberta.
  • Shell’s Scotford upgrader, which processes bitumen from the Muskeg River Mine, has had accidents resulting in fires and uncontrolled releases of deadly H2S.
  • Shell tried to avoid installing sufficient pollution control equipment at the Muskeg River Mine and was unable to meet its solvent recovery requirements.
  •  At the adjoining Styrene Monomer Manufacturing Plant, Shell has released wastewater effluent that failed to meet permit limits (August 2008) and has also released wastewater without even sampling or monitoring the discharge at all (June 2001).
  • Shell’s tailings plans for both the Jackpine Mine and the Muskeg River Mine did not meet the standards of Directive 074, the government policy designed to reduce the environmental impact of tailings.
  •  Shell has not honored their agreement with the Oil Sands Environmental Coalition either – Shell had promised OSEC to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution to levels in line with alternatives available in North America.


Now, Shell is proposing to massively expand one of these existing projects, and also has plans for a completely new project in an area that is very important to ACFN’s traditional way of life.  ACFN  members fear that these mines will have catastrophic effects on First Nations rights and the environment.   If Shell Canada’s proposals are approved it would more then double their production.  ACFN is drawing the line, and taking a strong stand against Shell. ACFN wants no further developments until Shell is brought to justice and their broader concerns about the cumulative impacts in the region are addressed.

For more information on the Joint Review Process for the two proposed projects please click here.


  • Significantly impact at least 10 species at risk and a range of wildlife and habitat in the area;
  • Drive ACFN members out of an actively used region of their territory that is critical to maintaining their culture, particularly for the families and members associated with the southern territories of ACFN’s traditional lands, which have already been devastated by oil sands development;
  • Contribute to the massive water withdrawals by oil sands projects from the Athabasca River, which ACFN members rely on as a transportation highway to their traditional sites, but which is now reported to be so low at points that safe access is no longer possible to many  traditional sites throughout ACFN’s lands;
  • Contribute to the contamination of the Athabasca River, the lifeblood of ACFN culture – already many members are too concerned to eat fish from the Athabasca River, once a cultural staple;
  • Generate vast amounts of tailings (JPM would be the largest tailings pond in the oil sands), a toxic legacy which the industry still has no foreseeable ability to reclaim or de-contaminate; and
  • Significantly accelerate the overwhelming development occurring on ACFN’s traditional lands,. ACFN members are at the tipping point for the survival of their culture, their traditional practices and the rights solemnly promised to them by the Crown under Treaty 8.


So far, Shell has only promised to address some of these effects if First Nations enter into agreements with Shell.  But, Shell’s performance on ACFN’s traditional lands has given good reason for ACFN to oppose to the proposed Jackpine Mine Expansion and Pierre River Mine. The Joint Review Panel, the government regulators and the people of Alberta should not trust this particular corporation to do the right thing.

The Joint Review Panel reviewing the proposed Jackpine Mine Expansion project announced a comment period on the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Application filed by the proponent, Shell Canada Ltd. This comment period provides interested parties an opportunity to express their views to the Panel on the adequacy of the available information.

“The Panel will review the public comments received and will determine whether it will require additional information from the proponent. Once the Panel is satisfied that the information is adequate, it will announce the details of the public hearing, including the hearing commencement date, the hearing venue, and any prehearing process and will provide a minimum of 60 days notice prior to the start of the hearing.” []

Forward your written comments by mail, e-mail or fax, in either official language by December 16, 2011 to the Panel Secretariat at the address below. All comments received by the Joint Review Panel will be considered public and will be posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry Internet site.

Joint Review Panel Secretariat
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
160 Elgin Street, 22nd Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3
Tel.: 1-866-582-1884
Fax: 613-957-0941


ACFN is drawing the line, and taking a strong stand against these proposed Shell projects and the rapid development of its traditional lands without regard for its treaty rights, its cultural survival or the devastating environmental impacts. ACFN wants no further developments until Shell is brought to justice and our broader concerns about the impacts of development in the region are addressed.



One thought on “Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s Case against Shell

  1. I am a non registered First Nations and will stand with my brothers and sisters. I will never buy fuel from Shell or Petro Canada again! my family and friends live down river in Fort Smith NT and all over the north. I worked up in the oilsands for a short time and seen some terrible mistreatment of our lands. There was a time when the Alberta Gov’t listen to the people of this province and regulated in good faith, but now is turning a blind eye for profit.My guilt is big for not doing enough to control this disease of greed over land, money, resources and the control over people. Time to occupy OILSANDS maybe? We all have to live and eat on this land. When the trillions are made, nothing is left but a poisoned useless world! what a legacy left for your children and future generations.

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