Oil company to charge First Nations living downstream for inadvertently free oil

This article originally appeared on the Syrup Trap

Photo via Mark Ralston/Getty Images
Photo via Mark Ralston/Getty Images

FORT MCMURRAY (The News Desk) — After a study found that chemicals have been leaching into the Athabasca River from oil sands tailings ponds, a major player in the Alberta oil sands has decided to recoup its losses.

This week, Suncor Energy billed the Fort Chipewyan First Nation for three decades’ worth of oil and chemicals that have been sent downriver to the small community. Community members are furious, saying they thought the oil was a gift and hadn’t expected to pay for the development.

“Since when have aboriginal people had to pay for development in our territory?” said Chief Archie Cyprien. “We thought we had a good thing going here.”

A good thing though the free oil may have been, it appears that the oil company has changed its mind. It will continue dumping chemicals in the river as it always has — but the community is going to have to start pulling its weight, according to the invoice filed this week.

“The community has been reaping the rewards of much more than just oil,” the invoice reads. “Chemicals such as arsenic (once used to cure syphilis), mercury (used to make top hats) and lead (used in soldering) have also been provided to Fort Chipewyan.”

The document has stirred up a longstanding bitterness among some Albertans, who feel that the province’s aboriginal people have profited from oil development while the rest of the province suffers.

“Not everyone is as lucky as the Chipewyan to live downstream from an oil patch,” said Ethical Oil author Ezra Levant.

“Some of us regular, hard-working people have to pay for our oil.” ♦

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