Alberta rolls the dice on oilsands lease lawsuits

The government of Alberta is once again rolling the dice when it comes to risky development in the Alberta oilsands - this time ignoring the constitutionally protected right of consultation with First Nations.

In yet another sign (reported in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal this morning) that the pace of Alberta's oilsands development is outstripping government due diligence, one of Canada's top natural resources law professors, Nigel Bankes, is criticizing the Alberta government for its failure to properly consult First Nations before putting their lands up for anonymous public auction through the province's oilsands tenure system - suggesting that the system is vulnerable to First Nations lawsuits.

Professor Bankes is the Chair of Natural Resources Law at the University of Calgary and his full analysis of the Crown's failure to consult can be found here.

Professor Bankes' legal analysis should give pause for concern not only to the provincial government, but also to oilsands lessees who could quickly find the basis of their expensive (and environmentally destructive) oilsands developments vulnerable to legal challenges based on the government's failure to properly consult with First Nations.

The Alberta government's gold rush approach to granting hundreds of leases every year (e.g. 117,753 hectares of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation traditional lands between April 2008 and July 2010) is a serious gamble and could be a recipe for disaster not only from an environmental and public health point of view, but also from a business perspective - a house of cards built on a failure to properly consult First Nations.

This morning's coverage:

Province vulnerable to oilsands lease lawsuits Kelly Cryderman The Calgary Herald February, 11 2011

First Nations lacking notice on oilsands leases Kelly Cryderman The Edmonton Journal (Postmedia News) February, 11 2011