Vincent McDermot / Fort McMurray Today
Members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and several other aboriginal communities are planning to block Highway 63 to protest a reported oil spill near Fort Chipewyan. But as of early Sunday morning, the province and the municipality could not confirm an oil spill even occurred.
On Saturday morning, members of the ACFN announced that community members had spotted a possible oil slick on the Athabasca River near Fort Chipewyan, a community of 1,200 Dene, Metis and Cree people. The announcement was made in front of hundreds of participants in the Tar Sands Healing Walk. The spill was described as five kilometres in length.
“It’s near a place called Point Brule, near the reserve of Poplar Point, about 150 kilometres north of Fort McMurray,” says ACFN spokesperson Eriel Deranger. “The spill is reported to be about five kilometres in length and the entire width of the Athabasca River.”
A few hours later on Twitter, environmentalist Clayton Thomas-Muller wrote that Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN claimed the spill was up to 40 kilometres in length. By Saturday afternoon, photos of the alleged spill began popping up on social media, although the authenticity of the photos had not been confirmed by the municipality or the province.
The province and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo heard the oil spill reports and immediately launched an investigation. Despite the reports from the isolated fly-in community, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development said search teams in helicopters had found no evidence of a spill.
As a precautionary measure, though, the municipality isolated the Fort Chipewyan Water Treatment Facility at noon. Water intake was also temporarily shut down.
A statement from the municipality, sent at 9:25 p.m. Saturday, says there is a safe, adequate water supply available for Fort Chipewyan, even as the investigation continues.
“There is no need to conserve or boil water,” says Kevin Scoble, Director of Environmental Services for the RMWB in a statement. “We have sufficient reserves in place.”
As a response to the spill, Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Mike Hudema confirmed that several Fort Chipewyan residents are organizing a protest on Highway 63, similar to the two protests that closed the highway during last winter’s Idle No More protests.
“Some community members made the announcement during the feast after the Healing Walk,” said Hudema. ACFN leadership could not be reached for comment.
Hudema says the road block is planned for August 24.