Alberta releases Lower Athabasca Regional Plan
But can this blueprint satisfy both oil sands critics and supporters?
“Alberta’s first regional plan sets strong environmental limits, conserves sensitive lands, provides certainty to industry, diversifies the economy and offers numerous recreational opportunities in the Lower Athabasca region.”
Wow. That’s a direct quote from an Alberta government press release hailing its Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, which was released today and goes into effect on September 1. It is the first of seven regional plans the Alberta government has committed to developing.
This one figures to garner a lot more attention than the other six because, as Nathan Vanderklippe of the Globe and Mail writes, the plan encompasses oil sands country.
Critics of the oil sands sector have been calling on the Alberta government to develop a plan for this region that would conserve more land and bring about more orderly development in this northeastern corner of the province.
As the plan was just released this afternoon, I haven’t been able to go over it with a fine tooth comb yet. But some of its highlights (from an environmental point of view) include immediately setting limits for air and surface water quality and regional groundwater management with triggers, and establishing six new conservation areas.
The plan isn’t too hard on the oil and gas industry, though, as Vanderklippe notes in his story:
The new conservation and recreation areas are also porous, closing down access to oil sands, but allowing development of so-called conventional oil and gas resources to continue. And the protected land strategy marks a significant concession to industry for the province, which had initially released a plan that would have seen it convert substantially more prospective land into parks and conservation areas.
Expect to hear a lot more reaction on this over the next couple of days as critics and cheerleaders alike digest the plan.
The Alberta government certainly wasn’t going to issue a plan that would shut down oil sands development. But did it strike the right balance between development and conservation with this plan?