‘Burning issue’ not resolved; Oilsands Report

The biggest surprise coming out of the provincial Oil Sands Consultation - Multistakeholder Committee Final Report is that the diverse panel reached consensus on 96 of the 120 recommendations.

"There were very strong levels of agreement," said Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Recalling that industry held just three of the 19 panel seats, the amount of agreement was a surprise because there was such an expectation of disagreement. "I think everybody saw there were real issues here," he noted.

The report was initiated by the province in 2005 to clarify and update policies that guide and regulate oilsands development.

No consensus was reached on 24 issues including the pace of development though Stringham said it was more to do with the moratorium. "It was the question of shutting things down that people couldn't come to consensus on. That one didn't surprise me," he added.

Mayor Melissa Blake, who has repeatedly asked for a slowing of development and a moratorium on approvals to allow the municipality time to catch-up on infrastructure concerns was not available for comment. Similarly, Wood Buffalo regional manager Bill Newell had not yet reviewed the final report and was unable to comment this morning.

For the report, the committee held a two-phase series of public meetings across Alberta including a community summit in the Fort McMurray region. Common themes were the pace of development including calls for a moratorium, capturing more value-added industry, stronger government leadership and, especially in the Fort McMurray area, a view the infrastructure and service deficits require urgent attention.

The need for environmental protection and conservation was a concern the panel heard at all public meetings.

On the leadership issue, Stringham said "I think (the provincial government) still needs to do more but they've actually really taken a big step forward." He cited the length of the process, the previous Doug Radke Report and the provincial government's infusion of several hundred million dollars into infrastructure as examples.

"Now that's certainly not going to solve the entire issue. We know there's more demand there but it shows, I think, the government is getting more involved," he added.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, made two presentations during the public consultation process. He wasn't surprised by the non-consensus.

"We're not much further ahead than we were six months ago. There's still a glaring lack of leadership on the issues that matter," he said.

McGowan added it's becoming more clear that while the government is happy to hold consultations, it's still on the sidelines when it comes to significant concerns such as the "burning issue" of pace of development.

Increased communication about initiatives already underway in the industry is another issue outlined in the report, according to Stringham. He noted there are some people who believe no land reclamation has occurred "yet there's a significant amount of reclamation." He said this report tries to narrow "those kinds of gaps in knowledge."

Stringham added it will take industry, government and environmental groups working together to completely close the gaps.

Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Thurs July 26 2007
Byline: Carol Christian

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