Greens blast new Alberta oil sands lands policy

Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:07pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta released an updated land-use plan for its oil sands region on Monday that the energy sector lauded for its balance between development and conservation, but environmentalists criticized for being too industry-friendly.

The latest draft sought to revise a contentious plan for the Lower Athabasca region that the government of the western Canadian province first released in April, aimed at delineating which areas can be developed and which should be set aside.

In that version, some companies faced the possibility of losing portions of oil sands leases to parkland.

"There have been some adjustments made relative to conservation areas and the tenure that's allowed on the landscape, both subsurface tenure and surface tenure," Mel Knight, Alberta's sustainable resource development minister, said.

The document makes note of the economic importance of the oil sands, the third-largest crude source in the world, as well as how a land-use policy will not supersede private property rights or aboriginal treaty rights.

Knight's department developed the policy to deal with the cumulative effects of often-frenzied oil sands development on the environment and local populations, including native communities.

Environmental groups have been highly critical of the pace of oil sands development and its impact on land, water and local communities.

The government said adjustments to boundaries included shifting two townships of land, which each total about 6 square miles (15.5 square km), in an area south of the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray called Birch River, where Sunshine Oilsands Ltd is planning a project.   Continued...