Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Deh Cho wary of tar sands, demand action

N.W.T. fears toll from oilsands development

staff// Fort McMurray Today
Friday March 23, 2007

Destruction of the Mackenzie River watershed, hundreds of dead adults and sick babies in the Deh Cho First Nation. That’s the scenario a Northwest Territories chief is predicting if oilsands development is not slowed.
Grand Chief Herb Norwegian wants immediate action from the Alberta and N.W.T. governments to protect the quality and quantity of water that flows downstream from the oilsands.

To mark World Water Day, some N.W.T. residents descended on the Alberta legislature Thursday to demand meaningful action to protect northern waters.
Alberta and the N.W.T. are set to sign a memorandum of understanding on a water protection plan but concrete action might be delayed for three years.
Residents of the territories say it’s not fast enough because oilsands development will continue while the protection plan is being drafted.

“We have a situation that’s going to be out of control if we don’t do anything, especially the government,” Norwegian, who is spearheading the formation of a watershed alliance, told Today from Fort Simpson, N.W.T.
“You’re talking about annihilation of people’s watershed if it’s not done properly, and three years is not soon enough (to take action),” he said, adding, “You’ll probably have a couple hundred people dead from Lord knows what happens from the stuff that’s coming out of the tar pits.”
Norwegian said delays for three years is like saying “20 years from now.”

But the N.W.T. deputy minister of environment and natural resources said both jurisdictions need to take the time to nail down an efficient and protective plan.
“What we’re interested in is making sure that we protect the quantity and quality of water that flows downstream from British Columbia and Alberta into the N.W.T.” Bob Bailey said.
He acknowledged that territory residents have expressed concerns about low water levels in the Slave River. They’ve also complained about water quality and fish tainting.
The Peace and Athabasca rivers flow north from Alberta and empty into the Slave River.
While N.W. T. residents want immediate action from both jurisdictions, the governments won’t say what specific plans they have to fix the water quality and quantity problems.

A spokeswoman for Alberta Environment said the province is using a phased approach.
“We do have strong processes within the province,” said Lisa Grotkowski, citing Alberta’s Water for Life strategy, the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program in Wood Buffalo and the recently released water management framework.
She said nothing is being done in isolation with regard to water management because Alberta recognizes its water flows across boundaries.

But the First Nations of Wood Buffalo have criticized the recently released water management framework as not protective of the Athabasca River because it will allow oilsands companies to withdraw water even during low-flow seasons.
Doug Ritchie of N.W.T.-based Ecology North said, “We are already seeing impacts in northern communities due to southern activities and pollution.”

He said the announcement Wednesday that a plan is in the works “amounts to a stall tactic that will not protect northern communities from increased water pollution and scarcity.”
Grotkowski said the plan is real and not a red herring. Alberta is working on a similar agreement with British Columbia, she noted.
Norwegian insists his people need immediate action from both governments: otherwise, everything downstream from Fort McMurray will turn into a dead zone.
“You’re starting to see it right now,” the chief said.

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