Last-minute negotiations settle a First Nation's concerns over the Teck Frontier oilsands mine

The Alberta government has resolved a First Nation’s concerns over the Teck Frontier mine, eliminating one obstacle that could have blocked the project’s approval.

The provincial government and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) reached an agreement over the weekend after a bitter public dispute between the two parties. The down-to-the-wire negotiations ended ahead of the Liberals’ decision on the fate of the $20.6-billion mega-mine this week. 

“Given the recent discussions with the Alberta government and their fresh and positive approach,” Chief Allan Adam said in a news release. “We reconfirm our support of the project and encourage the Canadian government to approve the project without further delay.”

Adam said his nation and the Alberta government have agreed on a “comprehensive and meaningful package of action items,” but the news release doesn’t state what those items are.

ACFN had accused the province of Alberta dragging their feet on the Dené nation’s concerns over water, bison habitat and the need for financial compensation for land rights. The provincial government said that it has been in dialogue with the nation and accused the band’s Chief Adam of being primarily concerned with money.

Each accused the other of delays that could block the project.

In July, a federal-provincial environmental panel recommended the approval of the Teck Frontier mine. The mine would disturb 292 square kilometres of pristine wetlands and boreal forest — an area half the size of the city of Edmonton — over its 40-year lifespan, although Vancouver-based Teck Resources would not begin mining the whole area all at once.

Two weeks ago, CBC obtained a letter Adam wrote to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. The letter stated it was unlikely ACFN’s concerns would be resolved within the prescribed timelines. This disagreement, a federal government source told CBC then, would weigh on the government’s decision to approve the mine.

The end to this public battle gives opponents of Teck Frontier one less argument. Conversely, it arms the project’s cheerleaders with the backing to honestly say all 14 Alberta Métis and First Nations in the immediate sphere of the project support it. Another band in the shadow of the project, the Mikisew Cree First Nation, also issued a press release Friday reiterating its support.

The Liberal caucus is divided over the issue.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told CBC Radio’s The House Canada would not be able to meet its net-zero emission target by 2050 if Teck Frontier was approved. On that front, it was announced Friday that Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon would enforce a cap on oilsands emissions, which may alleviate concerns over Teck Frontier’s greenhouse gas footprint.

Former Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the fate of the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine will be decided next week, setting the table for another potential showdown over an oil and gas project in Canada. But his Liberal colleague, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, warned that Canada won’t reach its 2050 net-zero emissions target if the project is approved. 13:24

Teck estimates the project would emit about four million tonnes of direct carbon emissions per year. One environmental group, the Oilsands Environmental Coalition (OSEC), estimated that it would be the equivalent of adding 891,000 cars to roadways.

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