The Alberta government’s draft plan to protect an additional 2.0 million hectares in the northern part of the province has rattled the oil sands sector. The announcement came as a surprise to producers, many of which own leases in the affected areas.
According to published maps, the new parks and conservation areas are scattered. A large chunk runs along the eastern edge of the province from the Cold Lake air weapons test range to north of Gordon Lake. A new Birch River conservation area would be established south of Wood Buffalo National Park. In the northeast corner of the province a new Canadian shield wildland park is proposed. Between Fort Chipewyan and Fort MacKay, a new Richardson wildland park is to be protected.
The province has not said how leaseholders are to be compensated for land they no longer have an opportunity to develop. If the government offers to return the money paid for the leases, the industry is going to think it to little. The industry is likely to want the “fair market value” of the leases today. Plus they have had exploration and development expenses on some of them. The provincial government is going to balk at paying any more than the minimum. This is an argument that will be contested for years to come.
The addition of more protected land in northern Alberta is an attempt by the provincial government to balance environmental responsibility and economic growth. But the plan has environmentalists saying it does not go far enough. What’s a provincial government to do? It cannot please either the oil sands sector or the environmental lobby. The only option appears to be to frustrate both of them.
Meanwhile, the public has 60 days to tell the Alberta government what it thinks of the plan. Learn more at the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development, www. http://www.SRD.Alberta.ca.