Following First Nation blockade, Woodland Cree and Obsidian Energy come to terms

The Woodland Cree First Nation has staged a series of protest camps to defy Obsidian Energy's expansion plans. Following negotiations between the two parties, an agreement in principle has been reached. (Submitted by Paul Lavoie - image credit)

A conflict over drilling operations that resulted in a First Nations blockade and standoff on an oil lease road in northern Alberta has been resolved.

Calgary-based Obsidian Energy and Woodland Cree First Nation have reached an agreement in principle over the company's expansion plans, bringing an end to a prolonged protest.

The First Nation had staged a protest camp near the company operations near Peace River, blocking off access to an Obsidian oil lease site.

Woodland Cree began blocking the access road in February over concerns Obsidian wasn't keeping it informed about industrial activity on its traditional territory. The band was also concerned about earthquakes linked to Obsidian's activities.

The camp — a tipi and tents flanked by rows of trucks lining the road 75 kilometres east of Peace River — was Woodland Cree's latest effort to oppose the company's drilling operations.

The First Nation erected its first protest camp in February, urging Obsidian company officials to address a series of earthquakes in the region in 2022 and 2023. The Alberta Energy Regulator found that Obsidian had caused the seismic events by disposing of industrial wastewater underground.

Obsidian countered that it was being strong-armed into granting the First Nation a monopoly on work at the company's sites.

Obsidian was granted a court injunction to remove the blockade but local RCMP didn't move in to enforce it.

"The company and the [First Nation] engaged in extensive discussions with the help of a mediator to arrive at a fair and equitable agreement that is beneficial to both parties," said Stephen Loukas, Obsidian Energy's president and chief executive officer.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Woodland Cree Chief Isaac Laboucan-Avirom said he looks forward to a "respectful and productive" partnership between both parties.

"After mediated negotiations, we have come to terms on an agreement in principle that balances the rights and interests of the Nation and Obsidian Energy Ltd.," Laboucan-Avirom said in the statement.

"We would like to thank our citizens, fellow Nations, business partners and the thousands of Canadians who supported us over the last few months. Reconciliation is impossible without solidarity."

The agreement between Obsidian Energy and the Woodland Cree would last until the end of 2025. No other terms were released.

Obsidian said production from the field that had been shut down during the blockade is being restarted.