Alberta First Nation presents evidence against Teck's exploratory drilling for oil sands mine
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) will present the impacts of Vancouver-based mining giant Teck's Frontier Oil Sands Mine project exploratory winter drilling project before the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in Fort McMurray today.
“We are looking out of the best interests of our people, our lands, our rights, and the public,” stated AFCN Chief Allan Adam.
“It’s time government and industry listen because we are serious about asserting our rights and title to protect our territory for current and future generations.”
According to the ACFN, this is a "unique and rare" hearing of a winter drilling program, which rarely triggers hearings before the AER.
Teck's Frontier project proposes to build a truck-and-shovel mine about 100 kilometres north of Fort McMurray with four production lines and a capacity of approximately 277,00 barrels of bitumen per day. No environmental assessment for the project is expected until 2015. According to reports, the mine is expected to employ up to 4,000 people during construction and 2,500 during its operation.
According to a Teck news release in June, the company also exchanged certain oil sands leases with Shell, which was in a legal dispute with the ACFN in 2011.
Teck’s exploration drilling, they argue, would disrupt an area of land that is vital to the survival of the Ronald Lake bison, one of the only Bison herds that is disease-free and can be used as a food source.
They argued in a 2012 report, Níh boghodi: We are the Stewards of our Land, that certain areas needed to be protected to ensure the survival of species such as caribou and bison and the continuation of Denesuline culture. The ACFN also pointed to the area as a "special management zone" that is required in the protection of Treaty Rights.
This is not the first time that AFCN has taken action against major corporations and government regarding the impacts of tar sands-related exploration.
In 2008, the ACFN took Alberta to court over its failure to consult before issuing oil sands tenures in their traditional territory. Two years later, they also sued Shell for breaking terms of agreement for oil development repeatedly since 2003.
Although the ACFN lost its case against Shell, the ACFN says it hopes the AER hearing will highlight the importance of addressing First Nations rights early on in the permitting process.
When asked a number of questions including whether ACFN was initially consulted on the project, Teck spokesperson Doug Brown responded with a statement via email:
“We want to move our proposed drilling program forward in a way that is protective of the environment and respectful of communities and First Nations in the area where we are operating. Our focus right now is on working cooperatively with government and First Nations through this hearing process."