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Court gives Alberta government 10 days to make decision on oilsands project

Suncor's base plant with upgraders in the oil sands in Fort McMurray Alta, on Monday June 13, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

CALGARY — A judge is giving the Alberta government 10 days to make a decision on an oilsands project that has raised concern from a nearby First Nation.

“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.

Prosper Petroleum Ltd. had asked the court to force the United Conservative government to rule on a project that was initially proposed in 2013 and approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator in June 2018.

The 10,000-barrel-a-day, steam-driven Rigel oilsands project would be built in the Moose Lake area, about 70 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray.

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.

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.

Romaine pointed out that, on average, it takes the Alberta cabinet seven months to make a decision on a project such as Rigel, and the delay seems unreasonable.

“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.”

RELATED: Alberta oilsands project wins regulator approval despite Indigenous objections

There was no immediate comment from the Alberta Department of Energy.

Brad Gardiner, president of Prosper Petroleum, said he’s relieved by the ruling.

“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.

He said the project can still be salvaged, but it’s running out of time.

“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.”

-The Canadian Press