Concerned that the oilsands threaten their wildlife and rivers, northern communities want the Alberta government to shut down further activity until it works out an environmental deal with the Northwest Territories.
All 33 of the territory’s cities, towns and hamlets — most of which are on water directly downstream from the oilsands — have approved a motion calling on the territorial government to start monitoring oilsands impacts and to take a tougher line with its southern neighbour.
“There is widespread concern in the Northwest Territories that the governments of Alberta and Canada have not managed the Alberta oilsands in a sustainable way,” says the strongly worded resolution passed at the annual meeting of the N.W.T.’s communities.
“This is no longer just an issue for Albertans and now poses a risk to all downstream communities in the Mackenzie Basin.”
But Robert Sayine, a town councillor and former chief of the Slave River delta community of Fort Resolution, doesn’t hold out much hope.
“I don’t see where (the territory) is going to be getting anywhere,” he said.
“Alberta, everybody knows, is one province that’s got lots of money. But the more they get, the more they want and they don’t really give a damn.”
The two governments plan to begin talks on water flows this fall, said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Carrie Sancartier.
The Athabasca River, which runs through the oilsands and is separated from several huge tailings ponds by nothing more than a dike wall, flows into Lake Athabasca. From there, the Slave River runs into Great Slave Lake, which feeds the Mackenzie River and its watershed all the way to the Beaufort Sea.
Most of the N.W.T.’s communities live on those waters. Some communities have previously expressed concern about water levels in the Slave, which they say have been lowered by the huge volumes used in the oilsands.