Three First Nations in northeast Alberta – Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation – have jointly filed an appeal related to recent Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) decisions to suspend key aspects of environmental monitoring in the oil sands. The First Nations were not consulted on decisions that clearly impact Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) ability to identify and mitigate these impacts in traditional territories.
These suspensions affect water, air, wildlife, and groundwater monitoring, including a joint air monitoring program with the Fort McKay First Nation, a community surrounded by oil sands and vulnerable to air quality impacts. Meanwhile, production continues with no clear oversight into the impacts on health and the environment or end date established for many suspensions.
“A significant part of our concern is the lack of due process. Industry should not be able to petition its own regulator to relax approval conditions with virtually no oversight. This industry needs to maintain its pursuit of ethical oil. This is not how you do it,” stated Archie Waquan, Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation “The decisions to suspend environmental monitoring were made unilaterally. We were not notified—in fact, we would have had no idea this had occurred if it had not been revealed in the press,” stated Mel Grandjamb, Chief of Fort McKay First Nation. Consultation would have enabled us to inform the regulator how its monitoring decisions impact our Nations. Both we and the industry would have been better served by the clarity that consultation would have contributed to these decisions.”
In the days leading up to these decisions, our representatives sat with AER, government and industry representatives to provide oversight to environmental monitoring programs under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. The fact AER did not mention once it was considering suspending monitoring, some of which may overlap with program work, is very disappointing. This neglect does not encourage reconciliation.
In March, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers requested that the federal government relax several regulatory and policy activities, including an indefinite suspension of all consultation with industry to develop new environmental policies. At the same time, industry has lobbied the provincial government to resume consultation with Indigenous communities to advance projects despite the closure of our communities due to COVID-19 pandemic responses.