Alberta releases new draft of land-use plan for its oil sands region in Lower Athabasca; adjustments to conservation areas, tenure in new version avert possible loss of some companies' leases compared with original plan released in April

LOS ANGELES , August 30, 2011 () – A new land-use plan for Alberta’s oil sands region that was released on Monday adjusts conservation areas and tenure to avoid some companies losing their oil sands leases, reported Reuters on Aug. 29.

In the original version of the plan released in April, some leases were threatened as areas of the leased land were slated to be set aside for conservation.

The energy sector approved of the new version, but it was criticized by environmentalists, who have opposed the rapid pace of oil sands development and its alleged impact on land, water and local communities.

Among the adjustments affecting specific lease holders are those involving an area south of the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray called Birch River. Sunshine Oilsands Ltd. is planning a project there, Reuters reported.

Under the new draft plan, less of Sunshine’s lease will be affected, with boundary adjustments including shifting two townships of land, each totaling about six square miles.

David Pryce, VP of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main lobbying group, said the latest land-use plan was “very much the way they had proposed it previously.”

He said the plan would give the industry “the policy certainty we were looking for,” reported Reuters.

Environmental groups, though, opposed the new plan. The document was further weakened in part by industry concessions and loopholes, said Jennifer Grant, oil sands program director at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank.

The plan, which will be debated by the Conservative government’s cabinet in the coming weeks, is expected to survive an upcoming change in Alberta’s leadership as Premier Ed Stelmach leaves in September, said Mel Knight, Alberta's sustainable resource development minister.

The land-use plan is not to supersede private property rights or aboriginal treaty rights, according to the document. Alberta has the third-largest crude resource globally, Reuters reported.

The primary source of this article is Reuters, London, England, on Aug. 29, 2011.

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