First Nations furious with governments weak response to massive contaminant spill in Athabasca River


First Nations furious with governments weak response to massive contaminant spill in Athabasca River

November 21, 2013 Fort McMurray, AB – That Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) are seriously concerned with government inaction regarding the Sheritt Coal slurry spill that occurred on October 31st resulting in close to a billion litres of contaminant entering  tributaries of the Athabasca River and eventually the Athabasca River itself.  The Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator waited three weeks to issue a clean up order and release information about the contents of the spill.

“We are furious with the Alberta Energy Regulator and governments for the lack of response for the largest spill in Canadian history. We are asking for the resignation of Minister McQueen and Gerry Protti for failing to do their job.  For three weeks we have been living in uncertainty about the safety and level of contamination of our water systems. For us, it’s not just about our drinking water, it’s about our rights and culture,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality decided only yesterday they would shut down the water intake at the water treatment facility and work with Sheritt to deliver clean, safe potable water to members of communities along the path of the plume.

Bruce Maclean from Maclean Environmental Consulting, a company that works with the local First Nations monitoring programs raised some serious concerns and stated, “Water quality data from the first days of the spill indicate many contaminants of concern to be above CCME guidelines, some 70 times above the guidelines. This includes PAHs, cadmium, arsenic, lead, selenium, silver, thallium, and even uranium. These numbers and contaminants represent real danger to human health and associated drinking water.”

Maclean also commented on the long term impacts of the settling of this sediment load and associated contaminants on fall spawning fish. “It will be difficult to assess without some serious sampling efforts, some of which may need to take place in the spring. We can assume that survival of fish eggs in the path of the plume will be compromised.”

The Nation asserts that the government failure to protect and safeguard the Athabasca river, the environment and eco-systems, equates to a failure to uphold the Canadian Constitution and Treaty and Aboriginal rights in the region. Treaty and Aboriginal rights to hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights are uniquely protected under the Canadian constitution.

“Government and industry continually ignore that our rights, our culture and our people rely on safe, clean eco-systems and waterways to continue our way of life,” stated Lorraine Hoffman, Councillor for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.  “We can’t keep the moose, caribou, bison, and fish from the contaminated plume as it travels downstream. This spill is just another example of both Alberta and Canada’s failure to protect the interests of not only First Nations, but the interests of all Canadians.  Water is life, no matter who you are or where you are.”

Last year the federal government made sweeping changes to numerous environmental protection acts, however the Athabasca River was one of few rivers, lakes and oceans that maintained federal protected under the Navigable Protection Act.  The ACFN is now questioning why the federal and provincial governments are allowing the continued abuse of this river system.  To date there has been no contact with federal agencies about the implications of this spill.

“We have been raising concerns about the lack of safety and protection of the river and environment for years. This summer Dr. Timoney released a report Environmental Incidents in Northeastern Alberta’s Bitumen Sands Region outlining 9,262 industry incidents on the Athabasca river and how the government is failing to enforce environmental regulationsNow, the Athabasca is subject to the largest coal mine spill in Canadian history and it has taken governments three weeks to show any concern. Where is the federal protection?  Something is seriously wrong with this picture,” stated Chief Adam.

In light of the new data, the Nation feels that a formal review of the official communication protocols around environmental disasters is needed.  The huge lag time in reporting and overall lack of transparency and leadership has led the ACFN to take matters into their own hands. The ACFN will be launching their own sampling before, during and after the plume passes through their community.


For more information please contact

Eriel Deranger, ACFN Communications Coordinator 780-903-6598





Federal government grants delay on approval for Shell’s Jackpine Mine project

logoFirst Nations request for federal delay on approval for Shell’s tar sands Project granted

November 6, 2013, Fort McMurray, AB – Earlier this week  the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced that a federal decision on Shell Oil’s Jackpine Mine Expansion, a 100,000 barrel per day open pit tar sands mine expansion, would be delayed an additional 35 days.  At the heart of this decision is the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who has been speaking out against the project since day one citing a variety of concerns relating to treaty and aboriginal rights as well as  direct and cumulative environmental impacts.

In July 2013 the Joint Review Panel appointed to review the Jackpine Mine Expansion project granted a conditional approval laying out 88 non-binding recommendations.  However, the Panel also made some remarkable findings including the following:

… the Project would likely have significant adverse environmental effects on wetlands, traditional plant potential areas, wetland-reliant species at risk, migratory birds that are wetland-reliant or species at risk, and biodiversity… in combination with other existing, approved, and planned projects, would likely have significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on wetlands; traditional plant potential area; old-growth forest; 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.[i]

Many of the findings of the panel give way to serious concerns of breach of federal legislation including Treaty and Aboriginal Rights, and the protection of species at risk. Many groups, including the First Nation, were surprised the Panel justified the Project on the grounds that it would be in an area ‘in which the government of Alberta has identified bitumen extraction as a priority use’.[ii]

“We’re glad an extension was provided.  It is clear that there is a lot of work to do before this project can meet the federal requirements for approval.  However, we are disappointed the Minister only granted 35 day and not the full 90 days allowed. The amount of work that needs to be done to mitigate and accommodate impacts to our Nation seems almost impossible in only 35 calendar days. But we will make best efforts and hope that Canada does the same.””  said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The ACFN raised concerns about the Project early on citing adverse impacts on Treaty and Aboriginal rights and title and difficulties with consultation and accommodation with the oil giant Shell.[iii]  The hearings for the Project became one of the longest hearings seen for a tar sands project and included over 60,000 letters of support for ACFN position against the project. .

“The ACFN is taking a big risk challenging the status quo of project approvals and development in the region,”  stated Crystal Lameman, Climate and Energy Campaigner of Sierra Club Prairie Chapter.  “We support their arguments that are strongly rooted in the governments’ failure to protect species at risk and the biodiversity of the region and the Treaty and Aboriginal rights of the Nation,”

Many of the ACFN’s concerns were echoed and supported in the Panel Report itself, and most recently by the report of the Commissioner on Environmental and Sustainable development which, criticized Canada’s failure to meets legislative requirements under the Species at Risk Act stating ‘the findings are cause for concern.’ The report also noted that a new collaborative approach rooted in using sound management practices, transparency and strong engagement is necessary to achieve the results necessary to fulfill federal commitments and responsibilities.

ACFN’s requests that Canada take concrete, immediate steps to address impacts, rather than commit to future action, are supported by the Commissioner’s observation of  “the wide and persistent gap between what the government commits to do and what it is achieving”.[iv]

Since the Panel Report  we have repeatedly requested meetings with the Federal Ministers to address the extensive list of outstanding issues we have with Shell Oil’s application to develop this recognizably devastating project in our traditional land use areas. The Nation states their request for meetings with high level ministers have been denied and they have only had opportunities to reiterate their concerns and position to technicians with little or no authority to make the necessary decisions to move their concerns forward.

“We need real action and a game plan created in partnership that addresses our concerns,” asserts Adam .  “At present we don’t feel that our issues are being taken seriously and the consequences for this governments inaction will be the annihilation of critical habitat for species at risk and other traditional resources, and the degradation of the Muskeg River and the Athabasca Delta, in our traditional homelands.”

The ACFN maintain their position that they are challenging these projects in the public interest and for the interest of all Canadians.

“The Muskeg and Athabasca Rivers drain into the Athabasca Delta, which remains one of the last remaining fresh water delta’s in the world and vital carbon sink that helps maintain atmospheric stability for the entire planet.  As Denesuline people we are the stewards of this region and we will do what is necessary to ensure that it remains here for all future generations,” concluded Chief Adam.


For More information please contact:

Eriel Deranger, ACFN Communications Coordinator 780-903-6598
Crystal Lameman, Sierra Club Prairie Chapter 780-337-9262

[i] Executive Summary – Joint Review Panel Report, Shell Canada Energy, Jackpine Mine Expansion Project, Application to Amend Approval 9756, pg. 2 para. 9

[ii]Executive Summary – Joint Review Panel Report, Shell Canada Energy, Jackpine Mine Expansion Project, Application to Amend Approval 9756; pg.2, para. 8

[iii] Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Technical Review – Jackpine Mine Expansion Project

[iv] 2013 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development; The Commissioners Perspective and Chapter 6 – Recovery Planning for Species at Risk