Dover oil sands deal with Fort McKay band raises the bar for future projects – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – February 25, 2014)

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In an agreement worked out after almost two years of negotiations, Alberta’s Fort McKay band didn’t get the buffer zone it was seeking to protect an area of great aboriginal significance.

What it got is a commitment it believes will achieve the same outcome — plus a broader lesson for the oil sands industry: Invest the time to work with First Nations on energy projects.

“If they come with the position that this is what we want, it’s going to be our way, and we are going to get all the approvals we need … I think that is the wrong approach,” Alvaro Pinto, chief negotiator for the Alberta community, said in an interview. “The more proactive you are in working with First Nations, the more creative you are in finding solutions together. That is what is necessary.”

The Fort McKay community, Brion Energy Corp., and Athabasca Oil Corp. reached an agreement late Friday to develop the Dover oil sands project after a meeting in the community near Fort McMurray between Fort McKay chief Jim Boucher; Zhiming Li, president and CEO of Brion, majority owned by PetroChina; and Sveinung Svarte, CEO of Athabasca.

The confidential deal has three components: environmental protection, fiscal terms and business opportunities.

Mr. Pinto said it was the environmental component that caused the most disagreement and that led the band to challenge the project before regulators and in the courts.

The agreement involves implementing best-management practices to protect the Moose Lake reserve, which the community regards as integral to its health and cultural survival. The First Nation originally wanted a 20-kilometre buffer zone around the project.

“We didn’t get a no-development zone, as we thought initially, but there are … many other measures that we can take, and the industry can take, to minimize the impact,” he said. “It gives us very good comfort that we are getting the environmental protection that we are looking for here.”

Mr. Pinto said the agreement raises the bar in terms of what’s expected from oil sands companies operating around the Fort McKay community near Fort McMurray, especially Moose Lake.

Andre De Leebeeck, vice-president of investor relations at Athabasca, said the deal paves the way for the approval of the Dover project by Alberta’s provincial cabinet and by Alberta’s environment department.

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