Another Project approval raises further questions in Alberta’s motive to stop at nothing to develop in the region
October 22, 2013 – Fort McMurray, Alberta – Yesterday the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released their decision on the Teck drilling applications. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), who submitted concerns triggering a public hearing, are disappointed with the decision and the entire Regulatory process.
Teck Resources Limited applied for licence to drill 177 tar sands evaluation wells within the territory of the ACFN on the west side of Athabasca River within critical habitat of the Ronald Lake Bison herd. The wells are being drilled to support the proposed Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project, which is also under a review.
The ACFN submitted concerns to the AER and the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) that Teck’s Program would have direct and adverse impacts on ACFN members’ ability to exercise their constitutionally protected rights, and contribute to loss of access to lands, the deterioration of water quality and quantity in the Athabasca River and interfere and impact critical wildlife including species at risk such as Ronald Lake Bison herd.
Concerns regarding the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts were mirrored by concerns submitted by other neighboring communities. ACFN put forward compelling evidence of serious impacts experienced during last years’ Frontier drilling program, and the vulnerability and rarity of the Ronald Lake Bison herd as a culturally important resource. Despite this, the AER found that Program effects would be localized, temporary and of short duration and would not result in significant adverse effects on Aboriginal rights.
“Over the past five years we have repeatedly tried to intervene in various applications and proposed policies governing tar sands development in the region in an attempt to safeguard our Treaty rights,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Yet, it would seem that our concerns fall on deaf ears and application after application and policy after policy are continually approved without adequate consultation or consideration of our inherent and constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”
The ACFN, along with other First Nations in the region have been raising red flags regarding the consultation process, adverse environmental impacts and the protection of Treaty and Aboriginal rights in the wake of out of control tar sands expansion.
Last year, the ACFN participated as interveners in the lengthy hearings for the Shell Jackpine Mine Expansion project, bringing forward compelling and hard evidence regarding the negative and adverse impacts that the project would have on the environment and Treaty and Aboriginal rights. However, the Joint Review Panel granted a conditional approval of the project outlining 88 non-binding recommendations.
The Panel however, ultimately admitted “…the Project, in combination with other existing, approved, and planned projects, would likely have significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on wetlands; traditional plant potential areas; old-growth forests; wetland-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; old growth forest-reliant species at risk and migratory birds; caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal traditional land use (TLU), rights, and culture.”
While the findings of the Panel were somewhat groundbreaking, albeit late, the ACFN is concerned with whether or not the recommendations will be adhered to by the Alberta government and Shell. The Nation will continue to pursue alternative means to ensure this project does not move forward without adequately addressing their rights and concerns.
Earlier this year the AER released a decision granting unconditional approvals for development even in the face of an intervention by Fort McKay First Nation. Chief Adam stated, “If people really understood the government of Alberta has been pushing full steam ahead regardless of the impacts to the public and evidence I would hope they would be appalled. The actions of the AER demonstrate that the government is failing miserably to uphold their obligations under the law. When we start making positive changes within the law, they simply change that too.”
In all three approved applications the AER and Panel relied heavily on the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) as justification to preclude the protection of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and traditional land uses of Aboriginal peoples in general, and of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in particular.
LARP is currently being contested by numerous First Nation, including the ACFN, who have requested a formal Request for Review of LARP under the basis that as it is today the plan does not address, nor provide protections for ACFN’s Treaty and Aboriginal Rights, traditional lands use, use and enjoyment of reserve lands, and culture. LARP is a smoke and mirror approach to give the impression that something is being done. I’m here to say, the only thing being done is approval after approval for tar sands extraction in the name of economics” said Adam
The AER and the Panel both justified the contested projects based on the fact that LARP had identified the areas as bitumen extraction priority use areas regardless of the compelling evidence brought forward by the First Nations and other interest groups.
“We have tried to resolve our issues within the limitation of the regulatory system, the courts and even on the streets,” stated Eriel Deranger. “Yet, nothing changes, its’ business as usual for Industry while our rights are slowly being phased out along with the pristine biodiversity and culture in the region.”
These recent approvals are now coupled with recent decision by an Alberta judge that the Alberta government has been working behind the scenes to silence groups that question the effects of tar sands operations on the environment. The decision condemns the Alberta government for interfering with the intervener selection process and only allowing more favorable groups to participate in the public review process. Many groups, including First Nations are losing faith that the review process in Alberta is fair or just.
Just last week, UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People wrapped up his Canadian tour with a scathing report on Canada’s track record on the treatment of Treaty and Aboriginal people in the country stating disputes over land and natural resources continue to be a source of tension and distrust. He went on to remark on the recent situation of the Mi’kmaq in N.B. as a “manifestation of this frustration with the unresolved issues” and “There’s a crisis in Canada with regard to indigenous issues.”
“We’ve had enough. Our Elders and members don’t want to see any more destruction of our traditional lands and territory,” stated Chief Adam. “We have drawn a line in the sand and we don’t want to see any development North of the Firebag River and into our homelands. We will do what it takes to ensure our rights are protected now and into the future.”
In response to LARP, the caribou recovery strategy and various other proposed land policies in Alberta, the ACFN have created a defined area they would like to see protected from unfettered development and abuse. They refer to this area as North of the Firebag river and a map can be viewed in the report here.
Now more then ever, it’s important that the rights and freedoms of First Nations in Canada and Alberta alike are addressed, protected and upheld. It is the view of the ACFN that the Federal government needs to step in to uphold their fiduciary obligations to protect both treaty rights and species at risk in the region before both are lost forever.
For more information please contact:
Eriel Deranger, Communications Coordinator ACFN 780-903-6598