Alberta Makes Concessions To Oil-Sands Producers In Parks Plan

CALGARY (Dow Jones)

A final version of the Alberta government's land conservation plan for the oil-sands region released Monday made some concessions to oil companies after the original plan threatened to cancel parts of several oil-sands leases in order to preserve them for caribou habitat.

"What we think this plan achieves is a balance between the environment, development and the community aspect of living and working in Alberta," Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight said during a press conference.

Knight said there may still be parts of some oil-sands leases cancelled, but that the effect would be "very, very little," and the plan "is going to be quite satisfactory to most operators in the area."

The original parks plan released in April, which sets aside more than 7,000 square miles for recreational parks and wildlife including caribou, was panned by some of the oil-sands developers who were seeing parts of their leases cancelled.

However, most developers in the area, including Cenovus Energy Inc. (CVE) and Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. (ATH.T) said they had worked with the government to ensure that the parts of their leases that would be revoked were on plots that weren't economically viable.

Knight said the government worked with other companies to shift conservation land around for the final conservation plan, but he declined to provide any specific details.

Jennifer Grant, director of oil-sands research for the Canadian environmental think tank Pembina Institute, said it appeared that the government had shifted some lands around to accommodate oil-sands leases owned by Sunshine Oil Sands Ltd., a privately owned developer that was particularly hard hit under the draft plan.

Executives of Sunshine Oilsands, which is planning an initial public offering in Hong Kong later this year, weren't immediately available to comment because they were traveling in China.

"The government's efforts to accommodate industry interests are apparent in this version of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, with the adjustment of some protected areas," Grant said. She said more loopholes were introduced in the latest plan that allow companies to get exemptions to environmental standards.

Knight said though the plan had critics, it set aside a large portion of land for protection that wasn't there during the industry's last resource boom in the mid-2000s.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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