Woodland Cree First Nation

June 22, 2007 18:59 ET

Woodland Cree First Nation Challenges Shell Oil Sands Expansion-Seeks to Prevent Another Ft. McMurray Disaster

PEACE RIVER, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - June 22, 2007) - On June 25, 2007, the Woodland Cree First Nation ("WCFN") will file an intervention with the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board ("EUB") with regard to Shell Canada's Carmon Creek Oil Sands project located near Peace River, Alberta.

In December 2006, Shell Canada filed an Application with the EUB for an eightfold expansion of its existing Carmon Creek facilities - the Application calls for the construction of significant new infrastructure and for an increase in bitumen production from 12,500 to 100,000 barrels per day. According to Shell's Environmental Impact Study filed with its Application, this Project may affect an area of 135,257 ha or 522 square miles!

This project is located within the Traditional Territory of WCFN and is very close to its main Reserve at Cadotte Lake. Although the project has the potential to cause very significant adverse impacts to WCFN's Treaty 8 and Aboriginal rights, to the environment and to present and future generations of WCFN members, neither Canada nor Alberta has bothered to consult with the WCFN about the project.

Over the last forty years, the WCFN has seen its Treaty and Aboriginal rights, and its very culture, threatened by rapidly increasing industrial development from oil and gas, forestry and now oil sands developments. As WCFN Chief William Whitehead observes, "Such development has gradually eaten away the land available to our First Nation - our lives have become poorer with each hectare of land no longer available to us to practice our traditional pursuits, as guaranteed by Treaty 8."

Chief Whitehead further states, "Shell's existing oil sands facility, located less than 10km from our main Reserve, has already infringed our hunting, trapping and fishing rights, and it has harmed the water and air within our Traditional Territory and around our Reserves. We are very concerned that the Carmon Creek Expansion and the other oil sands projects that will inevitably follow will devastate our Treaty 8 rights, that we will be unable to practice our traditional pursuits, maintain our physical health and that we will be unable to pass down our culture on our lands around this Project."

As is the case with other Albertans, WCFN has seen what has happened in Fort McMurray and how oil sands developments hurt the environment and human health. Fort McMurray's Mayor has observed that, "Past approvals...have been based on industry promises to mitigate negative socio-economic impacts...These promises, efforts and investments by industry, provincial and federal governments have proven to be inadequate...we are calling for the (EUB) to recommend and convene a broader, multi-party inquiry to expeditiously recommend solutions to this worsening scenario," (Mayor Blake's Opening Address to AEUB Hearing-Suncor Voyageur Application).

The EUB continues to approve new projects while admitting that things are out of control ("We should look at the possibility of regional hearings...where we examine the broader issues, the broader societal and environmental issues...We would hope that in the course of this kind of approach there would be standards developed that would look at the cumulative impact," Neil McCrank, Chairman of the AEUB in a speech at University of Calgary, March 14, 2007).

WCFN has seen how Canada ducks its environmental responsibilities while talking about their environmental priorities. Contrary to its legal obligations, not a single representative of the federal government has consulted with WCFN on any matter within federal jurisdiction in relation to Shell's Application.

WCFN calls on the Governments of Alberta and Canada to prevent the Peace River area from becoming another Fort McMurray before any more oil sands projects are approved in the area. Specifically, WCFN wants to see:

- a regional planning process established to look at the cumulative effects of oil sands and other resource developments on WCFN's Treaty rights, its members, the environment, human health and an examination of mitigation measures to prevent a repeat of the Ft. McMurray scenario;

- local and regional health effects studies established to collect baseline information on health conditions of Woodland Cree members, area residents, and wildlife (especially those species relied upon for sustenance purposes);

- a comprehensive and inclusive study on the impacts of present and proposed oil and gas and other developments on wildlife populations relied on for sustenance purposes;

- an investigation to be carried out by professional health experts to ascertain the extent and causes of pervasive health problems, especially respiratory illnesses, being suffered by members of WCFN members;

- studies to be carried out by water-resource experts on damages done by oil sands and other developments to water bodies within WCFN's Traditional Territory, especially damages to Cadotte Lake;

- comprehensive, meaningful and direct consultation established by Alberta and Canada with the Woodland Cree First Nation; and

- a joint environmental assessment review panel established by Canada and Alberta for Shell's Carmon Creek Application.

"The Woodland Cree First Nation people are pragmatic people but we have been placed in a very difficult situation as a result of these developments and the lack of proper government consultation and planning. We cannot and will not stand idly by while oil sands developments destroy the lands, air, water and the environment on which we rely...We will take any and all necessary legal steps to challenge Shell's Project and any other future oil sands projects unless and until Alberta and Canada carry out their duties to consult with our First Nation and accommodate our rights and interests," said Chief Whitehead.

Contact Information

  • Cook Roberts Lawyers
    Robert Freedman
    (250) 818-3719
    Woodland Cree First Nation
    Chief William Whitehead
    (780) 629-3803