Alberta to wait on call for oil sands moratorium

Mon Feb 25, 2008 5:40pm EST
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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta will not immediately rule on a call for a temporary halt to issuing new land leases in parts of the Canadian province's vast oil sands region, a government spokesman said on Monday.

The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), an umbrella group that includes industry, government, aboriginal and environmental groups -- and includes companies already operating in the region -- has asked the Alberta government in a letter for a moratorium on leases in three areas that are being considered for environmental protection.

That moratorium would run until the start of 2011, should Alberta back the recommendations. However a government spokesman said on Monday that the province would wait until at least June, when CEMA is scheduled to offer more details on the proposal, before ruling on the issue.

"The letter is under review," said Jason Chance, a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Department. "No decision ... will be made until the entire package from CEMA is received later this year."

CEMA hopes to have the province set aside three parcels of land, representing about 1/6 of the oil sands region, that are not currently leased to companies looking to exploit the resource.

The group want to create large areas of boreal forest in northeastern Alberta that will remain mostly untouched by development.

As of August, 2007, 2.8 million hectares (10,800 square miles) had been leased to companies looking to exploit the largest reserves of oil outside Saudi Arabia, according to CEMA.

Also on Monday, a group of First Nations chiefs from the region called for a halt on new oil sands projects until the Alberta government developed a plan to mitigate the effect of development on the region's environment.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson)