This report from the Pembina Institute, in great detail, explains the potential pitfalls and roadblocks of the consultative process on which Alberta Environment relies when deciding policies related to Alberta’s oil sands. According to the report, Alberta Environment “does not set royalty rates, issue oil sands leases, or have the final say about whether a given oil sands project is in the public interest.” I guess this lack of power should come as no surprise. While not surprising, the subservient relationship of Alberta Environment to other ministries has resulted in Alberta Environment negotiating with First-Nations and conservationists, developing policies to protect an area of land at the very moment when another Ministry is issuing a lease develop the same land. This seems dishonest, even for the Alberta Government.
It is not surprising that news reports often tell of this First-Nation group or that environmental group abandoning these consultations; the frustration of the deck being stacked against them drives them to leave in protest. In January 08 the Sustainable Ecosystems Working Group submitted a letter to the Provincial Government requesting lease sales be temporarily halted within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo until a management framework establishing protected areas be approved. Signatories of the letter included Conoco-Phillips, Suncor, Petro-Canada, Imperial Oil, Husky Energy, Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd, Albian Sands/Shell Canada and the expected NGOs and First-Nations. Members of the working group who did not support the letter were CNR, ENCana, OPTI/Nexen and UTS Energy. This is the complete list of working group members who did not support the moratorium. 4 corporations long. The Alberta Government rejected the requests of the working group and has indicated that framework suggestions submitted after the January letter will be evaluated within 18 months. “While the GOA takes a go-slow approach to environmental management, oil sands lease sales are not delayed.”
The Alberta Water Council, established in 2005 to recommend policy and an implementation plan for responsible wetland development, protection, and reclamation has submitted recommendations to the Minister of Environment. The Council consists of Government, NGO, and industry representatives, much like similar bodies that have either failed to achieve their mandate, or failed to maintain the confidence of their members. When I learned of the Alberta Water Council recommendations this morning in the news, I also heard the caveat. Accompanying the recommendations are two letters of ‘non-consensus’ from bodies representing the energy and mining industry. I immediately wanted to know which of the corporations that had supported the January letter had flip flopped, or whether these letters are a result of the aforementioned dissenting four corporations flexing their muscle. The non-consensus letters request “flexibility and appropriate discussions” and complain of the immense cost of reclamation, especially of peatlands, and that it is unfair to hold current projects to reclamation standards set after the project began.
The arguments put forth in these non-consensus letters are not convincing. The appropriate discussions have been ongoing for nearly a decade, and during this time the Government of Alberta has been nothing but flexible with energy producers. The longer we Albertans wait for a moratorium on new oil sands growth, the greater the risk that we will be stuck with the cleaning bill. And as David Pryce, VP of Western Canada Operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers reminds us in his letter of non-consensus, “it is impossible to replace peatlands with peatlands” and the “cost for compensating for wetland loss…will be substantial”.