First Nations downstream from Teck Resources’ proposed Frontier oilsands mine are expressing a lack of faith in the effectiveness of the joint provincial and federal review process as public comment on the draft agreement between the company and the regulator came to a close on Apr. 17.
Both the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Fort McKay First Nation submitted expressions of concern to the joint review panel late last month, calling into question the scope of the review and the weight of the panel’s following recommendations.
“While the scope of the panel’s mandate is sufficient to capture some of the key impacts of the Frontier mine on Aboriginal communities, we believe the real issue is how Alberta and Canada addresses the recommendations and findings of the panel,” states a letter from Daniel Stuckless, environment and regulatory manager for Fort McKay.
“The joint review process can provide valuable information and recommendations to government. However, in our experience neither Alberta nor Canada follows up on the recommendations made by Joint Review Panels. This means it is questionable whether there is any value to First Nations participating in Joint Review Panel assessments,” Stuckless said.
Those concerns could be remedied, Stuckless said, by requiring the provincial and federal governments to submit mitigation and accommodation measures for the Frontier mine project as part of the review process.
Representatives from ACFN and the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) have filed numerous concerns about the review process over the past two years, citing disorganization and inadequate information on the part of Teck as hindering their ability to effectively participate in the review.
According to ACFN, delays in responses from the company left the two First Nations very little time to respond with followup questions or comments.
Several submissions from ACFN to the joint review panel express further frustration that Teck’s application lacks sufficient information on impacts to the environment and Aboriginal rights, from traditional land use to groundwater, wildlife, wetlands and air quality, among others.
“In addition to the gaps relating to the biophysical environment and socio-economic conditions, there remain very concerning gaps relating to ongoing adverse impacts to traditional land use and culture and how the project may add to those adverse impacts,” states a joint letter on Mar. 27 from Lisa King and Melody Lepine, ACFN and MCFN’s directors of industry relations, respectively.
Both reiterated their requests for “full and timely” responses by Teck to their information requests prior to the start of the hearing process.
The Frontier project would mine approximately 240,000 barrels of bitumen per day from a site approximately 110 km north of Fort McMurray located on the west side of the Athabasca River, and would include two open pits, an ore plant, a bitumen upgrader, tailings facilities and more.
The project would stretch north of the Firebag River, a zone declared by ACFN to be off limits to further oilsands development.