January 29, 2007

Multistakeholder committee report details vision, principles for Alberta oil sands development

An oil sands multistakeholder committee, set up to advise the Alberta government on the consultation process for oil sands development, has released an interim report making recommendations for a vision and supporting principles for the future of such development. Its recommendations are based on seven public meetings held last fall throughout the province.

Nearly 300 Albertans made submissions during this first phase of consultation. In the second phase, slated to begin in March, the committee will again travel throughout the province to share the findings of the interim report and gather feedback from Albertans. The findings from the first and second phases will also be validated with First Nations and Métis. The final report is due to be submitted to the government by June 30, 2007.

In its interim report, the committee has recommended a vision for oil sands development that, among other things, ensures a healthy environment, builds healthy communities, honours the rights of First Nations and Métis, provides economic benefits and a high quality of life, infrastructure and services, and demonstrates leadership in governance.

The principles elaborate on this vision, emphasizing the importance of developing the oil sands in the context of sustainable development and at a rate that ensures maximum benefits and minimum impacts and is commensurate with the development of services and infrastructure.

Emphasis should be place on the planning and delivery of infrastructure, including roads and buildings, and health, education, policing and other social services, to keep pace with oil sands development, says the report. The rate at with the resource development proceeds, it adds, should be influenced by the commitment of government, industry and other stakeholders to manage the environmental, economic and social impacts of oil sands development responsibly. This includes the commitment to monitor and manage environmental impacts, maximize economic benefits and provide adequate services and infrastructure.

The principles further state that existing and future oil sands operators will need to continuously improve their technologies to maximize benefits and further reduce negative impacts. The latter can include application of the precautionary principle, the setting of limits and continuing efforts to seek out and use best available technologies.

Through the establishment of limits that protect ecosystem and human health, the report continues, oil sands development should occur in a manner that ensures a clean, healthy environment for both current and future generations. Oil sands development should also be carried out in a manner that is integrated with the sustainable management of renewable resources, such as forests and wildlife, and that encourages responsible use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels.

In addition, says the report, regulatory structures and systems should provide reasonable certainty and predictability for oil sands operators and proponents, while maintaining enough flexibility to ensure that regulations, policies and plans uphold the long-term environmental, economic and social interests of Albertans.

The multistakeholder committee includes representatives from First Nations, Métis, industry, environmental groups, as well as local, provincial and the federal governments. The Multistakeholder Committee Interim Report for Phase I, along with related information including submissions and meeting transcripts, may be viewed on-line at www.oilsandsconsultations.gov.ab.ca.

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