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An oil sands strip mine, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015.IAN WILLMS/The New York Times

Onetime foes from the oil industry, environmental organizations and aboriginal groups face a thorny task of advising the Alberta government on which future oil sands projects will fit under tough new carbon limits.

Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government has assembled a diverse 18-member oil sands advisory panel to help figure out how to prepare the industry for keeping greenhouse gas emissions under a target of 100 megatonnes by 2030. That is one of several targets in Alberta's climate-change policy, announced late last year.

The group will study technology and policy for reducing emissions from the world's third-largest oil deposit, while trying to protect a provincial economy that has sputtered over the past two years as crude oil prices tumbled to multiyear lows. Current oil-sands emissions are estimated at 70 megatonnes.

The NDP launched the climate plan – which also includes an economy-wide carbon tax and targets for slashing methane emissions – partly with the aim of showing current and potential trade partners that Alberta is serious about improving environmental performance as it seeks access to markets for its oil.

The makeup of the panel shows how some oil companies and green groups have moved from polarized positions and are trying to achieve their goals through consensus, said panel co-chair Tzeporah Berman, a climate campaigner formerly with Greenpeace and ForestEthics.

The other co-chairs are Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Melody Lepine, director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

"The first six months will be focused on implementing the new climate policy, and specifically around the emissions limits," said Ms. Berman, who has worked closely with Steve Williams, chief executive officer of Suncor Energy Inc., to find common ground with the oil sands sector on green policies.

"Who gets space under that cap? How is that space divvied up? What does the legislation for a cap actually look like? This is new ground – I believe that Alberta is now the only major oil jurisdiction in the world that has placed a voluntary emissions cap."

The panel includes representatives from Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., Environmental Defence, the Pembina Institute, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray Métis.

Besides climate issues, the group will deal with local and regional effects of development, including those on air, water and biodiversity. It will also make recommendations for how to deal with issues that could affect the oil sands between 2030 and 2050.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said the diversity of the panel should help to de-escalate the conflict that has stalled the aims of both the environmental and business communities.

The Opposition Wildrose Party disagreed. It blasted the appointment of Ms. Berman specifically, citing her previous anti-pipeline activism. "Appointing a co-chair to the [panel] who is vocally opposed and has made a career off of opposing our oil sands industry is deeply disappointing," Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said in a statement.

Follow Jeffrey Jones on Twitter: @the_Jeff_JonesOpens in a new window

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