The Fort McKay First Nation is planning to challenge Alberta Energy Regulator’s approval of a proposed oilsands project north of Fort McMurray.
Prosper Petroleum is seeking to move forward with its 10,000 barrels per day Rigel Project – located in the heartland of Fort McKay’s Moose, Namur and Gardiner lakes – a spot used to hunt, trap, fish, and conduct sacred practices.
In its decision released earlier this week, AER stated they find the project to be in the public interest.
“For the Rigel project to be in the public interest, the benefits to Albertans had to outweigh the burdens. We specifically took into account burdens to Fort McKay Métis and Fort McKay First Nation,” the decision reads.
During a two-week hearing held earlier this year in Fort McMurray, FMFN and McKay Metis spoke out against the project due to its proximity to ‘sacred refuge’.
“We can’t practice like we used to because the entire area around Fort McKay is owned by oilsands proponents, so we’re limited on where we can practice. Having a territory like Moose Lake enables us to go out and practice on the land, unharassed,” said McKay Metis President Ron Quinal.
While AER acknowledges the fear expressed is genuine, they say what is missing is evidence that the Rigel project itself will cause a loss of connection and relationship.
“We say that because there is already oil sands activity in the Moose Lake area: the Sunshine oil sands operation project immediately to the south and west of the Prosper lease, the Dover oil sands exploration project immediately to the east and southeast of the Prosper lease, and the Prosper oil sands exploration project,” said AER. “Yet Fort McKay Métis described the area as a refuge and a place where they can go now and feel that connection to the land.”
In a statement, FMFN Chief Jim Boucher says they are not surprised by the Regulator’s decision. He adds AER interprets its mandate very narrowly with respect to protecting their rights as Cree and Dene people.
“It dismissed the cumulative effects of the Project and the constitutional promises made by the Premiers of Alberta to enhance the protection of the Moose Lake area.”
Boucher notes they’ve already begun the process to take legal action against the province and AER to protect their interests.
Capital costs for the project are expected to be around $390 million – with an additional $50 million to be spent on well drilling and completions before startup.
Prosper estimates $15 million will be paid to the RMWB in property taxes, $440 million in corporate income taxes to the provincial and federal governments, and $1 billion in royalties to the provincial government.