Calgary

Alberta energy company critical of premier for refusal to approve oilsands project

The lawyer for an Alberta-owned oil and gas company suggested Premier Jason Kenney is being hypocritical in the province's refusal to give the go-ahead on an oilsands project. 

Prosper Petroleum wants province to issue decision on its Rigel project, a small oilsands development

Prosper Petroleum Ltd. President Brad Gardiner is taking the Alberta government to court in an effort to get a decision on its proposed oilsands project, which has languished waiting for cabinet approval. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The lawyer for an Alberta-owned oil and gas company suggested Premier Jason Kenney is being hypocritical in the province's refusal to give the go-ahead on an oilsands project.

Prosper Petroleum Ltd. was in a Calgary courtroom Tuesday afternoon in an effort to get a judge to order the provincial government to issue a decision on its Rigel project, a small oilsands development about 70 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray.

Prosper says Rigel would create about 10,000 full-time jobs during the construction phase and would produce about 10,000 barrels a day.

In June 2018, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) ruled the proposed project was in the public interest and recommended the provincial government issue an Order in Council giving the project the go-ahead.

But 18 months and two governments later, Rigel is still waiting for the province's approval.

'I can only imagine Premier Kenney's reaction'

Prosper lawyer Sander Duncanson said the longest cabinet has ever taken to make a decision, previously, is seven months. 

In its brief, the Alberta government stated the decision is cabinet's to make and that "it is not the proper role of the court to rush them."

"I can only imagine Premier Kenney's reaction to that type of a statement if it came from Ottawa," said Duncanson.

The frustration was echoed outside the courtroom by Brad Gardiner​​​​​​, president and CEO of Prosper.

"When I listen to premier [Kenney] talk about his frustration with Trans Mountain … you could replace Alberta's frustration with Prosper's frustration and take out Trans Mountain and put in Rigel and [have] a very similar frustration level, because we don't see any reason for a delay."

First Nation concerns

The delay could be tied to Fort McKay First Nation's concerns with the project.

If approved, the project would operate within 10 kilometres of two of the First Nation's reserves, known as the Moose Lake Reserves.

The province committed to conducting the Moose Lake Access Management Program (MLAMP) which would address how to mitigate the effects of oilsands development on the Moose Lake Area.

That plan has not been completed.

Further, Fort McKay is in the middle of its own court process, having won the right to appeal the AER's decision to approve the Rigel project in October.

The First Nation argued the project should not have been approved until negotiations with Alberta about the MLAMP were completed.

Prosper 'at the end of its rope'

Gardiner recognized the need for the provincial government to balance resource development with the rights of Indigenous communities.

"I think there's a very difficult situation facing the provincial government and this has been ongoing for 20 years and that is between satisfying the needs of energy and industry development and with preservation of First Nations rights," said the company president.

Still, Duncanson said Prosper is "at the end of its rope," is in "dire straits" financially and needs an answer. 

The province argued it needed more time to prepare, in asking for an adjournment.

"This is on very short notice to the Crown," said lawyer Peter Buijs. "We don't share the view that this is as urgent as illustrated."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Barbara Romaine gave the province four weeks.

"I don't know whether Prosper can absorb another month of delay," said Gardiner.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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