The Alberta Government published the long-awaited regional plan for the Lower Athabasca region this week. The plan, made under the Land Stewardship Act, would protect approximately two million hectares of habitat in the region, home to much of Alberta's oil and gas production.

The plan would have lesser effect on conventional oil and gas production. Existing leases would be protected and production would be allowed to continue, although new leases would not be granted in the protected areas.

The effect would be much greater on surface mineable bitumen production. Surface access would be prohibited in protected areas, effectively ending mining plans in those areas.

In total, fourteen energy companies would be directly affected by the plan. The Lower Athabasca region encompasses the Athabasca oil sands (containing 81% of Alberta's bitumen) and a significant portion of the Cold Lake oil sands.

Compensation would be provided to producers for lease and development costs where new leases would not be granted. There is no compensation, however, for loss of opportunity to produce resources.

A map of proposed land uses, including proposed provincial parks, public land-use zones, provincial recreation areas and public land-use areas, is located here

Producers are already commenting very negatively about the uncompensated loss of opportunity, as well as the message sent to investors by the expropriation of resources. Environmental groups are also unhappy with the plan, noting that the protected areas avoid bitumen-rich areas and are not representative of the overall habitat in the area. Shares of oil sands companies (including Cenovus, which has oil sands properties in the area, and CNRL and Suncor, which do not) fell Wednesday on the announcement.

Consultation will continue through April and May throughout Alberta. For a consultation schedule, see here.

A map of proposed land uses, including proposed provincial parks, public land-use zones, provincial recreation areas and public land-use areas, is located here