First Nation lauds plan to protect traditional land use in oilsands management plan

Moose Lake Image: Alberta Energy Regulator

The Alberta government says it has completed a plan to manage oilsands development in an area near the Fort McKay First Nation that supports traditional land uses and maintains its ecological integrity.

The announcement follows an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling last April, which overturned regulatory approvals for a $440-million oilsands project that would have encroached on land the First Nation considers sacred.

The court ruled that the Alberta Energy Regulator violated the honour of the Crown when it approved the proposal even though the development infringed on an agreement between the province and the First Nation.

Chief Mel Grandjamb says the Moose Lake Access Management Plan means band members will have a place to practise treaty rights and live in a traditional manner.

Fort McKay, north of Fort McMurray, is surrounded on three sides by oilsands development and 70 per cent of the band's traditional territory is taken up by mines.

Grandjamb says the plan calls for oilsands processing facilities to be outside the Moose Lake area and recognizes the negative effects such facilities would have on the First Nation's ability to practise traditional land uses essential to the preservation of Cree and Dene cultures.

“We are very ecstatic that the plan is what we wanted,'' Grandjamb said in a phone interview Tuesday. ``We are going to have a joyous celebration. People have been breaking down in tears.''

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said the plan supports traditional First Nation land uses with well-managed resource development.

The plan prohibits major infrastructure, including airfields, landfills, permanent work camps and central processing facilities within the 10-kilometre zone.

It also includes enhanced environmental monitoring for air, land, water and biodiversity within the planning area and no new industrial mining activity within the zone.

“This plan has been years in the making and we are pleased to be the government to bring it over the finish line,'' Nixon said in a release.

“The Alberta government, Fort McKay First Nation and industry share the singular goal of supporting responsible development in the oilsands region.''

In 2001, the band began talks with the province to preserve Moose Lake and a 10-kilometre buffer zone around it. Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice signed a letter of intent with the band in 2015 and three years later Fort McKay thought it had a deal, although it was never ratified.

That year, the Alberta Energy Regulator approved Prosper Petroleum's 10,000-barrel-a-day, steam-assisted bitumen extraction project that would have come within two kilometres of the lakeshore.

Last year, the Appeal Court instructed the regulator to reconsider the project.

Prosper CEO Brad Gardiner said the court ruling reflected a failure of the regulatory framework for the energy industry and a failure of the Crown to address the concerns of Fort McKay First Nation.

Gardiner was not immediately available for comment on the government's Tuesday announcement.

In July, the Alberta Energy Regulator said it would reopen the public hearing of Prosper Petroleum's proposal.

A spokeswoman for the regulator said a date for the hearing has not been set.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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