Government Dismisses Multi-stakeholder Recommendation for Moratorium on Oilsands Leases

The Government of Alberta has dismissed an unprecedented call from industry, aboriginal groups and environmental organizations to pause oilsands land sales in the Fort McMurray region. The stakeholders believe lease sales need to be halted for proper planning and to establish conservation areas to mitigate the serious cumulative impacts oilsands development has on the boreal forest.

In January 2008 the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), a multi-stakeholder organization initiated by the government to make recommendations for improving environmental management in the oilsands, asked the Government of Alberta to temporarily halt land sales in areas identified as high-value conservation opportunities. These areas are critical to the forest conservation plan that has been under development by CEMA over the past seven years. The recommendation was supported by a majority of CEMA members, including Suncor, Conoco-Phillips, Imperial Oil, Devon, Husky Energy, Fort McKay First Nation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Pembina Institute.

"Albertans will be left scratching their heads when they read the government's response, especially given that the request was made by representatives of industry, First Nations, Metis and environmental organizations, working together to develop a forest conservation plan," states Simon Dyer, Oilsands Program Director with the Pembina Institute. "It is ironic that Premier Stelmach's government is claiming commitment to environmentally responsible oilsands development while at the same time perpetuating an approach that even members of the oilsands industry have deemed to be environmentally irresponsible."

The government's written response to CEMA is dated March 7, 2008, but the Pembina Institute just obtained its copy last week. In the response, the Government Alberta ignored the diverse stakeholders' request to halt lease sales, but it encouraged CEMA to continue to develop land management recommendations, knowing full well that these recommendations may be impossible to fulfill without adequate areas of undeveloped land to offset the profound surface impacts of mining and in situ oilsands development in the region. Since CEMA's original request for a moratorium on land sales was made, the Government of Alberta has leased an additional 257,000 hectares of boreal forest for oilsands development - an area 13 times larger than Elk Island National Park.

"This government decision completely undermines the collaborative and consensus-based multi-stakeholder CEMA process," says Chris Severson-Baker, Policy Director at the Pembina Institute and CEMA Board Member. "The Government has demonstrated that it was not, and is not, genuinely committed to implementing a balanced forest conservation plan. While stakeholders worked on potential solutions, the government quietly and systematically sold the land areas needed to mitigate the damage in the developed areas."

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For more information, or copies of correspondence please contact:

Simon Dyer
Oilsands Program Director
The Pembina Institute
Tel: (403) 322-3937

More information and high resolution photographs of oilsands impacts are available at

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