May 22, 2006

Hybrid oil sands consultation model combines best features of multi-stakeholder, panel processes

An oil sands consultation group set up by the Alberta government in January has recommended a creative, hybrid model designed to foster greater collaboration and openness of public consultations on development of the province's oil sands resource.

Blending the best features of the panel and multi-stakeholder committee (MSC) processes, the model includes the establishment of an MSC to be accountable for the overall consultation process and a panel to collect public input. Members of both the MSC and the panel will be appointed by government to ensure representation from the public, industry, environmental groups, First Nations, and other stakeholders.

The group, headed by Mel Knight, MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky, presented its recommendations to the Ministers of Environment, of Energy and of Sustainable Resource Development on May 17. "These recommendations reflect the diverse backgrounds and years of experience that each group member brought to the table, and provide a solid foundation for strong oil sands consultation," said Knight.

Other group members included Gordon Lambert, from Suncor, representing the oil sands industry; Martha Kostuch, a well-known environmental advocate, representing environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs); First Nations representative Jim Boucher; and Bill Gendreau, representing the general public.

The government has accepted all nine recommendations and public consultations are expected to start this coming September, with the process concluding in June 2007.

The group has recommended that consultations take place in the three prime oil sands development areas, Peace River, Athabaska and Cold Lake, with meetings held in communities such as Fort McMurray, Fort McKay, Peace River and Cold Lake. In addition to open public meetings, the group proposes the creation of an Internet forum or process, easily accessible from any location, for receiving comments.

The hybrid consultation model developed by the group was based on its review of several consultation processes previously used in Alberta. The recommended process will provide for a consensus-based approach, to be developed by the MSC. The panel, working as a subset of the MSC, would gather public input and would also be tasked with considering any issues on which the MSC determined that a consensus could not be reached.

The MSC would work toward consensus recommendations and would determine any research or expert input that might be needed to improve their understanding of the issues. Possible topics for supplementary research might include the history of the oil sands and current status, economic issues, environmental concerns, and social and infrastructure matters (the report includes a list of potential detailed topics).

Other recommendations in the group's report call for:

*the scope of the consultation to include consideration of economic, environmental and social issues in an integrated manner;

*consultation to be on oil sands development as a subject matter, not a defined geographic area;

*the consultation process to include assessment of possible links to other policies or processes already in place, government or otherwise;

*information to be made available to stakeholders in a timely fashion; and

*the consultation process to be structured so as not to prejudice the consultation rights of First Nations.

The oil sands consultation group's report and final recommendations may be viewed on-line at www.environment.gov.ab.ca or requested in print form by calling 780/427-6267.

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