After years of negotiation and firm opposition from the First Nation, Brion Energy and the Fort McKay First Nation came to an agreement late last week on the Dover oilsands project planned for the Moose Lake area.
The two parties signed an agreement last Friday, with the Fort McKay First Nation agreeing to remove all of its objections relating to the approval of the mine after receiving word from the company that many requested environmental protection measures will be put into place.
Sustainability director and chief negotiator for the First Nation, Alvaro Pinto, told The Journal that the agreement is all about environmental protection for the culturally and ecologically sensitive Moose Lake area, seen as the last refuge for Fort McKay members to practice their traditional activities.
“They’ve agreed to several environmental protection terms that we couldn’t agree to before,” Pinto said of Brion Energy. “We’ve been in negotiations for almost two years. At this point in time, Fort McKay feels very confident that the measures that we’ve agreed upon are very strong in terms of providing the necessary protections to the Moose Lake area.”
Though he could not name specifics due to a confidentiality clause in the agreement, Pinto said the company has agreed to many pieces of the management plan developed by the First Nation that sought to balance development with the protection of treaty rights.
That plan proposed a 20-km buffer zone around the Moose Lake area, which would have cut into the company’s lease area.
“The Moose Lake protection plan that we developed consists of a series of mitigation measures in terms of access management practices, protection area around the reserve,” Pinto said.
“I can’t disclose any specifics on the environmental component, but as I said they are very strong environmental protection measures.”
Pinto said there is an economic opportunities component to the impact benefit agreement, as well, but it was less of a priority for the First Nation than the mitigation of environmental impacts.
“In this case, it is essentially all about the environmental…We didn’t even talk about the other terms before the environmental component was agreed upon and finalized,” he said. “We knew that if we didn’t have an environmental agreement, we wouldn’t have an agreement at all.”
Brion’s chief executive officer and president Zhiming Li said the agreement comes down to being “good neighbours.”
“Our lease and Fort McKay’s reserves at Moose Lake sit next to each other,” Li said in a press release. “As good neighbours, Brion is committed to developing the lease in an environmentally sound manner, while delivering social and economic benefits for the local community.”
The Alberta Energy Regulator approved the Dover project on Aug. 6, 2013, but it has yet to receive final approval by the provincial government.
Brion, based in Calgary, is a joint venture between Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. and Phoenix Energy Holdings Ltd. The company was formerly known as Dover Operating Corp.