On August 6, 2013, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approved the Dover Commercial Project (Project), a 250,000 barrel per day in situ oil sands project proposed by Brion Energy (a joint venture between Athabasca Oil Corporation and PetroChina). With a planned operating life of 65 years, the Project is one of the largest oil sands projects ever proposed in Alberta and was the first in situ oil sands project in a decade to require a public hearing. The Project was vigorously opposed by the Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN), who had not opposed a major oil sands project in approximately 20 years and who requested a no-development buffer around their reserves at Namur Lake. In considering the Project, the AER relied on the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) and the fact that the Project was proposed to be located outside any LARP protected area. The AER also considered the amount of bitumen that would be sterilized if FMFN's buffer were implemented. On the basis of these and other factors, the AER approved the Project as applied for, and with minimal conditions, none of which related to FMFN's proposed buffer. Given the size of the Project, its close proximity to FMFN's reserves at Namur Lake and the strong opposition to the Project by FMFN, this decision should serve as an important precedent for future proponents of oil sands projects.
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