Alberta government given 10 days to make decision on Rigel oilsands project

An aerial view of Fort McKay, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011.
The Alberta government and the Fort McKay First Nation have agreed to meet again in three months to decide the fate of one of the last areas in the band's territory that hasn't been impacted by oilsands development. An aerial view of Fort McKay, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The Alberta government says it will appeal a ruling that gives the province 10 days to make a decision on a bitumen recovery project in the oilsands.

Prosper Petroleum Limited had asked a judge to force the United Conservative government to decide on the proposal that was first submitted about seven years ago.

The 10-thousand-barrel-per-day steam-driven Rigel oilsands project is in the Moose Lake area, about 70 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray.

It received approval from the Alberta Energy Regulator in June of 2018, but has been sitting in cabinet ever since.

READ MORE: Fort McKay First Nation chief calls for treaty rights to be upheld as legal battle over oilsands project continues

Justice Barbara Romaine granted the injunction, pointing out an average project takes about seven months to be approved or denied.

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“There is a strong public interest in encouraging a timely cabinet decision. The balance of convenience supports an injunction,” Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Barbara Romaine said Tuesday.

“The Crown has refused to give specific reasons for the lengthy delay, citing cabinet confidentiality. It submits that I must assume that cabinet is acting in the public interest with no evidence to support that assumption.”

Brad Gardiner, president of Prosper Petroleum, says the project can still be salvaged, but it’s running out of time.

“This has been a very slow, frustrating process. But at least we know 10 days from now we’re going to have a decision, positive or negative, but at least we’ll have a decision,” Gardiner said outside court.

“That’s why we pressed for getting a decision as quick as possible. In our evidence we said we need to have a decision by the end of February or we’re going to miss a third winter construction season.

“The longer you delay and the more money you lose, you reach a point where you say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ We need to get out there and get started on this project.”

READ MORE: Alberta oilsands project wins regulator approval despite Indigenous objections

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The project has been opposed by Fort McKay First Nation, which has also gone to court and asked that approval of the project be overturned.

The region was the subject of a high-level meeting between Indigenous leaders and members of the provincial cabinet recently. The two sides agreed to meet in April to decide the fate of Moose Lake.

The region is sacred to the Fort McKay First Nation. The band is surrounded on three sides by oilsands developments and it says Moose Lake is the last place where it can pursue traditional activities.

An agreement to protect the area was reached under former Alberta premier Jim Prentice but was never ratified.