Council endorses Osum’s Taiga oilsands project
Cold Lake council is lending its support for Osum Oil Sands’ application for a project located north of the city. Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland said it was the first request for a letter of support from an oil company that he has seen come before council. Copeland praised the company’s support for the community and its commitment to taking steps to make its operation as environmentally sound as possible. “I can’t ever recall an oil company ever asking for our support, but I’m not surprised: OSUM thinks outside of the box in a big way,” Copeland said.
“As long as the oil companies are producing oil in an environmentally friendly way, I’m a big supporter. They’ve gone over and above, in my opinion, in terms of doing their due diligence.” Council voted in favour of writing letters of support for the project 5-2, with Councillors Kelvin Plain and Darrell MacDonald casting the opposing votes.
OSUM also sent requests for support for the Taiga project, located on a lease site about 20 kilometres north of the City of Cold Lake on the west side of the lake itself, to the MD of Bonnyville, the Town of Bonnyville and both the Cold Lake and Bonnyville Chambers of Commerce. The application for the project was submitted late in 2009 and while the company had hoped to begin the first phase of construction project by the end of last year, the regulatory process has not given the company the green light as of yet.
Osum’s manager of communications, Justin Robinson, said the company’s requested for letters of support to “…help ensure that the benefits of the project are given serious consideration in the regulatory review process.” The company provided councillors with thousands of pages detailing the technical aspects of the project, as well as the socio-economic impacts the project is expected to have, both through construction phases and in operation. “While the Project may also create or add to some regional and provincial pressures, in purely economic terms, the benefits are significantly greater,” reads a summary of the socio-economic impact provided to councillors.
Osum expects Taiga to bring almost $3 billion in direct capital investment in the area over the course of the project, which will also bring hundreds of jobs, opportunities for local business and increase the local tax phase, if it is approved.
The company’s Taiga project would use no fresh water to generate steam for the SAGD recovery process and plans have already been altered to address a number of stakeholders’ concerns, including minimizing the traffic the project will bring to the area’s roads, the impact of seismic studies, the impact of lighting needed for the project and reducing the number of well pads in original plans.
Pending ERCB approval, Osum expects the labour force needed for construction of the Taiga project to peak at about 250 people in 2013, with operations beginning sometime the next year. Combined with operations personnel, peak employment is expected at over 300 people. The project is expected to produce up to 45,000 barrels per day. The company promotes projects as some of the most economically sound oil recovery projects in Alberta, due to the quality of the bitumen recovered and the “proximity to markets and infrastructure.”
While Councillor Plain said the economic boost the project would bring to the area was a strong reason to support the project, he had concerns over development around the lake. “I know that there are going to be huge benefits for the city,” he said. “We’re going to have a huge payroll in the area, a bigger tax base, guys making lots of money and all of the rest of it. But there’s part of me that really is concerned about this unleashed development, particularly around Cold Lake. I find myself asking the question
‘How much is enough? How much steam do we need to inject into the ground?’” Plain said he would leave it up the ERCB as the regulatory agency to make the decision and did not feel that the city has a place in actively supporting Osum’s application.
Councillor MacDonald did not raise any concerns over the project, but asked how many councils were asked for support and if Cold Lake First Nations councillors received the request – information that was not available to councillors last week.
Cold Lake First Nations has formally filed an objection to the Taiga project with the ERCB, but no public hearing has been announced. CLFN Councillor David Janvier said the First Nation considers the lease site to be on traditional land, but did not offer any details on CLFN’s objections. A band report on the CLFN website states that the First Nation continues to “…carefully scrutinize the Osum project.”
“Protection of our Treaty Rights, culture and community will always be of our highest priority,” the report adds. “Our objective is that prior to any physical disturbance of out traditional lands, we require a study and protection of our traditional resources.”
Osum’s Robinson said that consultations with Cold Lake First Nations have been ongoing for three and a half to four years. Based on First Nations concerns, a number of changes to the project have already been made to the company’s application.
He noted that any remaining concerns will be considered through the ERCB’s approval process.
“Regulatory review is a very important process and it does ensure that companies are held accountable and stakeholder concerns are taken into consideration,” he said. “I guess from our perspective it’s taken a little bit longer than anticipated and we are anxious to see it move along to a logical conclusion, but it is an important process.”