Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning. Welcome to Edmonton.
I would like to make a brief presentation. Recognizing that we have only five minutes, I have provided a document to the committee with respect to our presentation, which will elaborate on the points I'm going to make today.
Fort McKay is a small first nation community. Our first nation is surrounded by oil sands development. We are in the geographic centre of a massive industrial development. We are surrounded by tailings ponds and we have experienced the oil sands development for the past forty years.
My members have lost approximately 60% of their traplines to oil sands development, and 57% of our lands within 20 kilometres of our communities have been mined or approved for mining. Oil sands leases cover almost our traditional territory and have effectively extinguished the exercise of our treaty rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather.
Our Industry Relations Corporation has been extensively involved in consultation with industry, intervention with regulatory agencies, and negotiations with government. The IRC has prepared backup documentation for this presentation and would be pleased to provide to the committee any further technical reports on the subject matter of my presentation.
In a global economy with global environmental concerns, the interests and perceptions of the consumers of the oil sands products are important. There is a growing perception that oil sands development is proceeding without a coherent, sustainable development or regulatory plan and that it is irreparably damaging the environment and the first nations communities. The result is a product widely perceived as dirty oil.
Unfortunately, much of the perception is accurate. There is at present no cohesive federal or provincial economic, environmental, or regulatory framework or blueprint to address not only the sustainability of oil sands production, but also its cumulative and long-term environmental impacts on water, land, air, and aboriginal rights.
To date, oil sands development has proceeded on an ad hoc, project-by-project basis within a fiscal and environmental regulatory framework that is seriously out of date. Lacking a coherent and overall plan and strategy, there is only an ineffective, reactive, piecemeal approach to environmental issues, such as water management, cumulative effects, and reclamation planning. The lack of political will and federal-provincial cooperation, competing corporate interests, and the inherent economic instability of resource-based industries have each in their own way undermined the development of a coherent, sustainable blueprint for the second-largest hydrocarbon resource in the world, and the world is noticing.
All Canadians have an interest in changing the world's perceptions of the oil sands, but perceptions will not be changed until Canada, Alberta, and industry put in place sustainable economic and environmental blueprints, as well as effective regulatory regimes for the development and reclamation of the oil sands.
Industry requires withdrawals of enough water from the Athabasca River to sustain a city of two million people every year. Despite some recycling, the majority of this water never returns to the river and is pumped into some of the world's largest man-made dikes, containing toxic waste.
The current licensed level of 550 million cubic metres per year of water withdrawal and the growing demand is not sustainable, particularly in light of the diminished flows of the Athabasca River. DFO has failed to set a minimum flow level for the Athabasca River. Current oil sands operators continue to draw water, regardless of how low the river flow is. The risk of irreparably damaging the fishery or treaty rights threatens our oil sands development production.
We support the following conclusions of the report entitled Running out of Steam? Oil Sands Development and Water Use in the Athabasca River Watershed: Science and Market-Based Solutions, prepared by the University of Alberta and the Munk Centre in 2007.
At present, water is a public resource that is given freely to the energy industry. A lack of regulatory limits has enabled companies to rely on extraction and reclamation technologies dependent on the endless free supply of an increasingly scarce and valuable public resource. Consequently, it is used excessively and undervalued, and the real environmental economic opportunity costs are not fully accounted for.
As part of a water conservation strategy, we recommend that governments must initiate a long-term plan, with firm regulatory standards that over time both cap and diminish the licensed volumes of water available to each of the oil sands producers. Knowing that their supplies of water will be reduced will require industry to invest in available technology and research to create extraction technologies that are more efficient and less wasteful of fresh water.
I believe that a cap on water withdrawals to each project and to the industry as a whole needs to be established. Limited but transferable water rights, i.e., a “cap and trade” system, would provide an economic rationale for technological improvements and generate cost-effective solutions, clearly protecting the Athabasca in-stream flow needs.
Ninety percent of the water intake ends up in the tailing ponds. Tailing ponds, which are 70% water, are the world's largest waste water storage facilities, and by 2025 there will be one billion cubic metres of degraded processed water in tailing ponds.
In 1995, our first nation appeared before the Energy Resource Conservation Board to oppose granting a reclamation certificate for the Syncrude tailings pond. A number of recommendation for research and action came out of this hearing, but it appears that since that time there has been little if any progress made on developing reclamation plans wherein strategies are both achievable and acceptable either to industry, governments, or to the neighbouring communities. After 40 years of operations, there are no proven and viable reclamation plans for old tailing ponds.
Recently, in February 2009, the Energy Resource Conservation Board issued its first directive to industry on tailing ponds reclamation performance, which is supported by the community of Fort McKay. However, the main problem, among others, with this directive and its goals is the lack of proven technology to treat water adequately to remove chemicals in fine tails to enable recycling whereby they can return the water to the river.
Federal and provincial governments need to become actively involved in creating appropriate regulatory standards and fiscal incentives for transparent and proven reclamation technologies. They must also ensure that the outcomes of this publicly supported research and technology for water treatment and cost-effective production of dry tailings serves the public interest and is not limited in its availability or use by the proprietary rights of the developer.
The federal government has important areas of jurisdiction that, if asserted, could directly impact oil sands development. The Fisheries Act, the Indian Act, the Migratory Birds Act, and the Species at Risk Act are some areas of jurisdiction that the federal government has to date failed to meaningfully assert in the oil sands. In particular, DFO has stood by for decades and watched the deterioration of the water quality and quantity of the Athabasca River, its tributaries, and downstream lakes.
Our community had relied for generations on the exercise of our treaty rights to fish and to provide a good food staple. This treaty right has been effectively extinguished in our region without any consultation, accommodation, or compensation by Canada. Fort McKay will shortly be taking measures to ensure that the failure of the federal government to protect our treaty rights and the important natural resource of water quality and quantity, including the fisheries upon which our treaty rights depend, does not continue.
The federal government acquires billions of dollars annually from the oil sands through taxes and other means. By 2020--