Fort McKay First Nation says it's ready to take legal action against oilsands project if approved
'The AER has already put blinders on what really matters to us,' Fort McKay chief says
The Fort McKay First Nation says it's ready to take legal action against any approval of an oilsands project near the First Nation's ancestral homeland.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) began public hearings in Fort McMurray Tuesday on Prosper Petroleum's Rigel oilsands project.
The Fort McKay First Nation, which invests in the oilsands and whose traditional territory is no stranger to development, opposes this particular project. The Fort McKay Métis have also voiced opposition to it.
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The First Nation and the Métis local say the project is too close to their ancestral homeland, the Moose Lake reserve.
The reserve is a remote area of unspoiled land with two lakes, Gardiner and Namur, located about 60 kilometres from the community of Fort MacKay and 100 kilometres from Fort McMurray. Both Indigenous groups use the area to hunt, fish, trap and for spiritual practices.
Prosper Petroleum intends to develop the project about four kilometres from the reserve.
"Unfortunately, we are prepared for the project to be approved by the regulator," said Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher in a press release. "The AER has already put blinders on what really matters to us.
"We have already started our court action. We know the real fight is in the courts."
AER spokesperson Monica Hermary defended the hearing process saying the outcome of the hearing is not certain or pre-determined.
Over seven days, a three member panel will hear Prosper's application and testimony from the company, experts and community members. A decision will be released within three months of the hearing's adjournment.
The Fort McKay First Nation said it opposes the Rigel oilsands project unless the province offers assurances it will reduce the project's proposed water usage, safeguard wildlife and limit its proximity to the Moose Lake reserve area.
Company says it's accommodating concerns
Prosper Petroleum declined an interview but said Monday at the hearing it intends to develop a steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, operation that would produce 10,000 barrels of bitumen per day.
Prosper Petroleum's operation would include a processing facility, a co-generation unit, six well pads, roads and a 16-kilometre natural gas pipeline.
If the AER approves the project, Prosper intends to begin construction next winter and commission the plant in 2019-2020.
At Monday's hearing, Prosper Petroleum's chief sustainability officer, Carrie Cochran, said the company's processing facility would be as far from the Moose Lake reserve as possible.
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Cochran said moving any farther from the reserve would "result in unprecedented and undue hardship to Prosper in terms of additional costs."
Prosper also said the impact of its processing facility on the environment would be minimal.
The company also said its facility will not be visible from the reserve, except for the facility's vapour plumes on cold days. The company intends to install motion-detected lighting that would reduce light pollution, and noise-producing equipment will be housed inside buildings.
It said it will also control odours from the plant.
Fort McKay Métis President Ron Quintal said both the Métis and the First Nation share the Moose Lake reserve. Quintal said he was out on the reserve hunting moose last week.
"It's so vital, not just to the current generation but to our future generations," Quintal said.