"We've advocated all along that government needs to go and look with how it deals with lost opportunity [compensation] particularly as companies have booked value and that's been reflected in their shares," he said.
And it remains unclear how much companies will have to give up, even when their land falls under a conservation designation. Part of a lease owned by Cenovus Energy Inc., for example, falls under a newly-designated Gipsy-Gordon Wildland Provincial Park.
"It all depends on what activities can be carried out in these areas," said Alan Reid, Cenovus vice-president for regulatory affairs.
In fact, other Alberta regional plans have allowed for some oil and gas development in conservation areas, he said.
Despite concerns of industry, Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert backed Mr. Knight's plan, saying land use planning is long overdue and could not be achieved without impacting some of the region's oil leases.
"We should have been doing this 50 years ago, not today, and we wouldn't have some of the issues we're dealing with today. But sooner or later, you've got to address some of these issues," Mr. Liepert, who is on vacation in California and did not appear at the announcement with Mr. Knight, told The Globe and Mail in a telephone interview. "There's no quiestion there were a number of issues industry had expressed concern about... Obviously, it would be impossible not to impact any of the leases that are currently in existence up there. But I think we managed to bring forward a report that had the minimal impact that was possible."
Asked about Sunshine Oilsands Ltd. and other companies whose leases are affected, Mr. Liepert said his ministry will "work with" the companies to "try and see if there are options that can be explored." He did not speculate on what such solutions would be, or whether compensation would be offered.
For Sunshine, he said their lease was tough to avoid because the bitumen deposits "weren't as positive" as leases to the south.
"Again, we had to make some tough decisions in terms of meeting the 20 per cent conservation area, and we knew that the area that Sunshine had under lease was going to be an issue. We will be working with them as we move forward."
The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan is the first of seven water basin plans the province will put out. Without such plans, the province has essentially ignored any questions about cumulative effect when approving industry projects and has little or no baseline data in the oil sands.
"Land planning is absolutely critical in Alberta right now," he said.
The plans are part of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, a controversial law passed in 2009. The right-wing Wildrose Alliance has used the law as a wedge, though some of their members used to support it. With the release of Tuesday's plan, the PCs have, in turn, staked a path down the middle of the political spectrum by allowing some environmental conservation efforts to trump industry lease holdings.
Mr. Liepert wouldn't comment on Wildrose's critique of the plan.
"You know what? I don't even bother crediting those guys. They're nothing but people who complain about everything. I'm interested in trying to work together with industry to move forward, and not continue to complain about every issue under the sun," Mr. Liepert said.
It wasn't just Wildrose criticizing the plan. Environmental groups and thinktanks slammed it as too industry friendly, though some were more vigorous than others. Greenpeace called it an example of the government "allowing dirty oil profits to trump the public interest," while the more moderate Pembina Institute was "concerned" that the plan prioritizes "industry interests over science-based environmental protection." Pembina called for an independent scientific review of the plan.
Mr. Liepert took the criticism on both flanks as a sign of success.
"I've been in politics a long time. All I can say is when you've got people unhappy on the right side of you and people unhappy on the left side of you, you've probably found the right middle ground. And I think that's exactly what we've done with the Lower Athabasca," Mr. Liepert said.
Companies that own mineral or oil rights in the Alberta's proposed conservation and recreation areas:
- Home Check Incorporated
- Ronald Lyle Smith
- Ronald James Stewart
- Lester Bonnard Vanhill
- 0859953 BC Ltd.
- 547184 Alberta Ltd.
- 877384 Alberta Ltd.
- Athabasca Minerals Inc.
- Fission Energy Corp.
- Graymont Western Canada Inc.
- Thomas Moricet
Energy (Petroleum Natural gas and/or Oil sands tenure)
- Alberta Oilsands Inc.
- Antelope Land Services Ltd.
- Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.
- BP plc
- Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
- Cenovus Energy Inc.
- Chinook Energy Inc.
- Harvest Operations Corp.
- Imperial Oil Resources Limited
- Pan Pacific Oils Ltd.
- Scott Land & Lease Ltd.
- Southern Pacific Resource Corp.
- Statoil Canada Ltd.
- Stone Petroleums Ltd.
- Sunshine Oilsands Ltd.
- Bancroft Oil and Gas Ltd.
- Cavalier Land Ltd.
- Koch Exploration Canada G/P Ltd.
- Perpetual Energy Operating Corp.
- Ranger Land Services
- Standard Land Company
- Devon Energy Corp.
- Lende Investments Ltd.
- MEG Energy Corp.
- Rocky Layman Energy Inc.
Source: Government of Alberta