Athabasca First Nation Chief Allan Adam joined members of the province’s official opposition to call for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to be “reviewed and overhauled and a new leadership put in place.”
“At every opportunity the AER has diminished or dismissed our concerns,” said Adam at the news conference in Edmonton.
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse is a member of the legislative assembly and a Michel First Nation member.
“We are here today to demand accountability,” said Calahoo Stonehouse.
She called comments by Brian Jean, minister of energy and minerals when he referred a release of silt from a collapsed culvert at an Imperial Oil tarsands site as just muddy water “disgusting”.
“If the head of the AER won’t do his job. If Brian Jean won’t do his job they both need to resign,” said Calahoo Stonehouse.
Adam also expressed frustration at the response by government officials and the regulator and referenced high cancer rates in the community of Fort Chipewyan.
In 2014, an Alberta government report found three elevated rates of cancer in the community.
The study, which examined cases between 1992 and 2011, found higher-than-expected levels of cervical cancer, bile duct cancer and, among women, lung cancer.
While researchers would have expected to see roughly 79 cases in a community of Fort Chipewyan’s size, they found 81.
Alberta Health Services concluded “the total number of cancers and most types of cancers in the Fort Chipewyan area were the same as rates in the rest of Alberta.”
One of the cancers that was cause for concern from Adam and others in the community was bile duct cancer. Researchers did not expect to see any cases of bile duct cancer and observed three.
The chief medical officer of health in 2014 told media that the government had found “little evidence” that there was an environmental connection to the cancer rates.
A comprehensive federal study had been promised, but not completed.
When APTN visited Fort Chipewyan last March, several people we spoke with referenced cancer rates and concerns for their health.
Review by the regulator
The AER is still reviewing a tailings pond and overland spill that occurred last year and resulted in an environmental protection order.
“It has taken far too long and [there has been] systemic incompetency displayed.” said Calahoo Stonehouse.
“The AER needs to cease what it is doing and do its job,” said Adam.
Adam said that due to AER’s nine month delay in notifying his nation as well as Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation that the regulator is “not credible” to continue oversight.
According to the environmental protection order the AER requested a communication plan from Imperial Oil to inform “potentially affected parties” as according to regulation, it is the company’s responsibility to inform the community of environmental issues.
APTN reached out to comment from the AER but did not receive an immediate response.