- Category: news
- Created: Tuesday, 20 August 2013 13:36
- Published: Tuesday, 20 August 2013 13:36
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By Andrew Bates, Today staff
Fort McMurray Today
Does exploratory drilling count as oilsands development?
That was the question suggested in the first day of hearings by the Alberta Energy Regulator. The hearings will examine well licenses for a 135-well exploratory drilling project Teck is proposing for its Frontier oilsands mine project.
The Vancouver-based mining company maintains that the impact of the drilling 49 kilometres north of Fort McKay will be minimal and it has obtained all the consultation and environmental preparation it needs for exploratory drilling, a preliminary step before a hearing on the mine project itself.
However, local First Nations groups like the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation and Fort Chipewyan Metis Local 125 argue that they haven’t been appropriately consulted and that the drilling, which has not attained an environmental impact assessment, will harm access to its lands for traditional uses and endanger a local Ronald Lake bison herd.
“Teck considers that its core hole program ... addresses the concerns expressed by aboriginal parties,” said Teck’s director of external affairs, Ian Mackenzie, in the hearing. He noted the drilling will be confined to 53 hectares for 90 days, sites will only have an active drill rig for 48 hours, and said Teck has committed to using the minimum amount of sites possible.
Mackenzie pointed to a series of emails between Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development ministry, the Justice ministry and the ACFN, concluding the project had been adequately consulted on and that the environmental impacts would be minimal as bolstering its case.
However, the ACFN asserted consultation by the Crown or findings of the ministry were not relevant to the hearing, and chair Rob McManus agreed that the regulator was primarily concerned with whether Teck had complied with its directives on consultation. Mackenzie said Teck was confident that it had.
ACFN Chief Allan Adam said that the same assessment and consultation should be considered for exploration as for development.
“They’re saying that it’s minimal development stage right now. But as soon as you start putting core hole drilling and you have exploration and everything, the development has started in our view,” he said. “Exploration has to be consulted with the First Nations. Sure you can say that they consulted with the ESRD, but what about consulting with the ACFN?”
The First Nations groups have submitted a number of conditions to the project proceeding, such as the additional studies, consideration of alternate drilling methods or mufflers for the drills to contain noise they say will be harmful to local wildlife. Teck said in their opening statement they consider the conditions unrealistic and inappropriate.
Teck declined a request for comment, but issued a statement through its director of public affairs.
“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,” said Doug Brown, manager of public affairs for Teck.
“Our focus right now is on working cooperatively with government and First Nations through this hearing process.”
According to Allan, the ACFN will issue its opening statement Aug. 20. The hearing is expected to continue at the Chateau Nova in Fort McMurray for a week.