The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is seeking to block a major oilsands expansion project, adding another Indigenous legal challenge to the region's resource exploitation.
In a filing to the province's energy regulator, the First Nation asked to stop the expansion of Syncrude Canada Ltd's Mildred Lake oilsands operation.
If approved, the expansion would add around 184,000 barrels of oil per day to Mildred Lake's production. Hearings on the matter are to be held by the Alberta Energy Regulator in Fort McMurray from Jan. 22-Feb. 8, 2019.
Chief Allan Adam said that Syncrude's oilsands operations have persisted for 40 years in his nation's territory and have had a deleterious effect on the land and his people. He said that an expansion will only exacerbate these.
Those effects include lower water levels in the Athabasca River and Peace Athabasca Delta, increased water contamination, and destruction of caribou and moose habitat, he said in a statement on Monday.
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has a history of working with oilsands companies and benefiting from jobs and contracts in the region, but it has regularly called for the industry to act more responsibly to reduce its footprint and do more to protect public health.
"We can hardly get a boat through the Delta, migratory birds don’t fly over, the fish are diseased, and our people are sick," he said. "Throughout this whole time Syncrude has not provided any compensation to ACFN for these impacts. Now, Syncrude wants to make their mines even bigger.”
If approved, Syncrude’s site development is scheduled to begin in 2019, with active mining to continue until 2036.
The legal move by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation follows word that another First Nation that has partnered with oilsands companies, the Fort McKay First Nation, had challenged its partners in the Athabasca oilsands in order to meaningfully exercise the rights promised in Treaty 8, which was signed in 1899 and is the largest treaty by area in the history of Canada.
Fort McKay First Nation filed suit against the provincial government earlier this month, citing an infringement of Treaty rights and seeking a block on any industrial development in the Moose Lake area.