Indigenous communities warn of oilsands camp moratorium consequences

One unintended consequence of the oilsands moratorium in Fort McMurray could be the harm it causes to Indigenous owned businesses. The warning comes from at least two Indigenous groups within the region.

'Just from a purely revenue perspective, it's going to be a huge impact on us,' says McKay Métis president

Buildings used to house the thousands of workers at company work camps in the northern Alberta oilsands. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

Two Indigenous communities in the Fort McMurray region are expressing their concerns about the oilsands camp moratorium that was unanimously supported by the region's municipal councillors Monday evening.

One of their concerns with the moratorium is the potentially harmful effect it may have on Indigenous communities and their businesses.  

"Just from a purely revenue perspective, it's going to be a huge impact on us," said Ron Quintal, president of the McKay Métis community.

Quintal said about 25 members are employed with oilsands camps around the community of Fort McKay, a rural hamlet north of Fort McMurray.

"It's definitely going to have an impact on revenue. We're hoping we can push for amendments," Quintal said. "The fact is our community is involved in one way or another with camps."

On Monday, councillors from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo voted to support limiting the permit approvals and camp renewals within 75 kilometres of Fort McMurray.

Councillors pushed for some exceptions for camps housing workers who are doing one-time jobs and won't have work after a couple of weeks.

In a letter read during this week's council meeting, Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Archie Waquan said the community opposed the moratorium.

He is worried about the impact on his Fort Chipewyan-based band.

"The Mikisew Cree do not support this idea. We feel that more discussions with First Nations that have an interest, especially Mikisew First Nation, needs to take place regarding this issue," he said in the statement read to council. 

According to the municipality, as of the 2018 census, the moratorium could impact 65 camps and about 27,000 workers.

The municipality also estimates 11 oilsands companies have sites within the moratorium's radius. 

Full authority

Premier Rachel Notley, in Calgary Wednesday for an LRT funding announcement, said the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council had full jurisdiction to impose a moratorium.

In Calgary, Rachel Notley says that the work camp moratorium close to Fort McMurray is 'a decision of that municipal council.' 0:54

Notley supports a community's right to impose a moratorium, she said in response to a question, but hopes the municipality fully understands what it's doing.

"I think it is important for them to dig in really hard and make sure all the consequences, intended and unintended, are fully canvassed," Notley said. "But I am not going to weigh in."

Oilsands camp moratorium numbers

  • 65 camps/ project accommodations operate within 75 kilometres of Fort McMurray.

  • Camps have a capacity of 44,946 beds.

  • According to the 2018 Wood Buffalo municipal census, 27,256 workers live within 70 kilometres of Fort McMurray.

Oilsands sites within camp moratorium

  • Suncor Energy (Base Mine, Millenium, North Steepbank, McKay River)
  • Canadian Natural Resources Limited (Athabasca Oil Sands Project (Muskeg River & Jackpine), Horizon)
  • Syncrude (Mildred Lake, Aurora North)
  • Imperial Oil (Kearl)
  • Husky Energy (Sunrise)
  • PetroChina (McKay River)
  • Sunshine Oilsands (West Ells)
  • Athabasca Oil Corporation (Hangingstone)
  • Japan Canada Oil Sands (Hangingstone)
  • Nexen Energy (Long Lake)
  • ConocoPhillips (Surmont)

Source: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (Jan. 30, 2019)

 Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.