Under the guidance of Chief Jim Boucher over the last three decades, Alberta’s Fort McKay First Nation grew into an oilsands services powerhouse and one of Canada’s most enterprising aboriginal communities. The 800-member band located 65 kilometres north of Fort McMurray has zero unemployment, average household income of $120,000 a year, a $50 million trust fund and owns companies that generated $2.36 billion in revenue in the last five years.
Now it’s dusting off plans to develop its own oilsands project to take advantage of low construction costs in the region, the result of collapsing investment due to the oil-price downturn.
It’s far from a sure thing, as the Fort McKay could still decide to keep the 2.5 billion barrels of oil under their lands undeveloped until technologies evolve to minimize environmental impacts, but the option is being explored, Boucher said in an interview in Calgary.
“Timing is right because construction is a big factor in your costs, and the labour costs have gone down substantially in the last year,” he said. “We started the exercise a month ago, and so we are looking at what kind of opportunities there are for some of our assets in the oilsands.”
If the project moves forward, it would represent a vote of confidence in the sector and an inflection point for Canada’s aboriginals. Many already provide services to the oilsands, some even produce conventional oil, but such a project would be the first in the Athabasca oilsands to be owned and controlled by a First Nation.
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