First Nation concerned Nexen oil pipeline spill highlights dangers of poorly regulated industry and violations of Treaty
July 17, 2015 – Fort McMurray, AB – On Wednesday of this week Fort McMurray’s oil sands hit a new milestone, it is now home to the largest oil spill in Canadian history. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is concerned that without addressing the current poor environmental standards coupled with increasing development in the region will only result in more spills and incidents. These types of incidents are seen as leading causes of degradation of the environment and ultimately the rights and title of First Nations in the region.
Nexen’s Long Lake oil sands project experienced a spill resulting in 5 million litres, the largest recorded spill in Canadian history, of toxic water, bitumen and sand to flow directly into the surrounding eco-systems. At present both the Alberta Energy Regulator and Nexen are stating the spill did not enter into the water system but did flow into a large area of muskeg.
“A spill this size into the Muskeg, which is an important part of the eco-system in the region and house many of our medicines, berries and habitat for species our people rely on for sustenance, is extremely serious,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN.
“The muskeg are a part of the basin and feed into the groundwater system, the location of the spill is dangerously close to the Clearwater River that flows directly into the Athabasca River. The repercussions from the incident could potentially be felt far and wide by those that rely on the Athabasca Basin,” stated Adam.
In 2011, Plains Midstream pipeline spilled 4.5 million liters of oil sands into the muskeg near the community of Little Buffalo where reclamation is still incomplete.
“There is no way to clean or reclaim the muskeg. Destruction and contamination like this that directly affects key component of our eco-systems is affecting First Nations ability to access lands and territories for hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping rights, rights protected by both the constitution and our Treaties. Yet, incidents like this continue to occur with little regard to the long term implication it has on our communities and our rights,” stated Eriel Deranger, Communications Coordinator for the ACFN.
First Nations across Canada, including the ACFN, have been challenging various resources extraction applications, proposals and in production projects citing violations of treaty and aboriginal rights as defined by Section 35 of the Canadian constitution and treaty agreements throughout the country.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recent report highlighted a need to ‘develop a holistic vision of reconciliation that embraces all aspects of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, and to set the standard for international achievement…’ referring to the need to consider the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which includes recognition of Free, Prior and informed consent, a model Canada has been unwilling to entertain.
“I think it’s time for the government and industry to come to terms with the fact that the rights and title of First Nation people are interdependent with flourishing, clean and healthy eco-systems. If we continue to accept that these types of incidents are the status quo of development we are also accepting the illegal abrogation of the rights and title of First Nations,” continued Adam.
The ACFN has been critical of poor regulation of the industry in the region calling on the government to implement stronger policies and processes for enforcement. The Nation asserts the need to respect First Nation protection areas that are necessary for the continuation of Treaty and Aboriginal rights in the region.
“This shouldn’t just be a concern for First Nations, muskeg is not just important to the eco-system and First Nations but it’s also one of the planets richest carbon sinks, something the government should be very concerned about given their commitments to addressing climate change in the province,” continued Deranger.
“Climate change, declining water tables exacerbated by dewatering from industry and drought, increased human activity and an increased incident of spills, ruptures, and blow outs in the region are creating a dire situation. We are reaching a point where our members may not be able to meaningfully exercise their Treaty and Aboriginal rights. The time for discussion without action is long past and we are hopeful that this new government will take the time to consider our concerns and move towards true reconciliation,” concluded Adam.
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Communication Coordinator & Executive Assistant
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation