Northern Alberta First Nation walks back on plan to block oil and gas companies

Northern Alberta First Nation walks back on plan to block oil and gas companies

A northern Alberta community is walking back on its initial proposal to stop certain oil and gas companies from entering by putting up gates at the entrance ways to the community.

The Bigstone Cree Nation, the First Nation in Wabasca-Desmarais — 327 kilometres north of Edmonton — issued a letter to Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan on Feb. 20.

The letter said the community was planning on installing gates on Sunday, March 12, to control all traffic going through the reserve — and all oil and gas traffic heading to work.

Companies on the no-entry list include:

- CNRL

- Cenovus

- Husky

- Laricina

- Alberta Pacific Ltd.

- BonaVista

- TransCanada

- Banister

- Tolko

- West Fraser

- All Logging Trucks

- All Star Contracting

- Exact Oilfield

The letter cites six reasons for the blockade, including "the abandonment of the local economy and local companies," along with a lack of meaningful consultation between the band and oil and gas companies and concerns around water protection.

Exact Oilfield, which is based in Slave Lake and operates exclusively in northern Alberta, is included among several companies on the no-entry list.

Owner Ken Carpenter said he will have to cut 25 per cent of his workforce because of the letter they received on Thursday.

"Even though we're taxpayers in the MD [municipal district] of 17 … they're just saying that for some reason we're not allowed to work in that area," Carpenter said Saturday.

"Twenty-five per cent of our workforce is out of a job, and going forward, if this is allowed by the government, it could spread across the province.

"We might as well phone up Ritchie Brothers."

But Chief Gordon T. Auger of Bigstone Cree Nation said Saturday the gates — which he said many people are likening to a road block — will not be installed.

"It's not a road block at this time, and I don't think it's going to happen at all," he said. "Not right away, anyway."

Third-World situation

Auger said the band is considering installing a toll station, which would allow the band to control who comes in and out of the territory and could also generate revenue for the community.

"A toll is where you can control traffic — who comes into your territory," he said. "We have to fight back and charge every vehicle that comes through our reserve. That's why we're putting in toll stations."

Though Auger couldn't provide specifics as to when the toll stations would be installed — he said it could be as early as next week but as late as a couple of months from now — they won't be installed Sunday, like the letter he signed and sent to the Indigenous relations ministry stated.

"It's not going to be overnight," he said.

Despite this, Carpenter said Exact is still pulling out of the area. The main job Exact has in the area is through Husky, and Carpenter said Husky wants no part of working in the area until it's resolved using the proper channels.

"It's totally unstable there. You don't know what the playing field is like," he said. "It just doesn't give you any confidence to work in the area."

Auger said he's not worried about companies pulling out of the area.

"We're tired of living in a third-world situation," he said. "Nobody should have control of our land. It's our land."

Government response

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Kyle Ferguson, a spokesperson for the ministry of Indigenous relations, said the government will "make every effort to prevent the establishment of toll gates."

"The Alberta government is aware of the potential construction of highway toll gates near Bigstone Cree Nation and is working diligently with Bigstone Chief and Council to resolve the issue promptly," he said.

"If prevention efforts prove unsuccessful, the government will then focus on resolving possible traffic disruptions that may result in delays to the public. We will do this peacefully and promptly through open dialogue and building relationships."

Carpenter is hoping the situation, whether resolved by Bigstone Cree Nation or by the government, is sorted out soon.

"Hopefully it gets ironed out soon," he said.

Auger said he is standing pat on the idea of a toll station until there are more discussions amongst the council and community.

"No government comes and tells us what to do — federally, provincially, municipally, or even for that matter, oil companies," he said.

"[But] Monday morning, the road will still be clear."