The provincial cabinet has 10 days to decide whether Prosper Petroleum Ltd.’s 10,000-barrel-a-day oilsands project can proceed, a Calgary judge ruled Tuesday, in finding that successive governments had dragged their feet on a decision.
Justice Barb Romaine, citing arguments presented by the company in support of a judicial order, noted Premier Jason Kenney has chastised the federal government for similar delays in oil industry projects.
“The premier has characterized lesser delays on the much more complicated federal Trans Mountain project as taking too long, even though that project required consultation with over 100 Indigenous groups as compared to the three that Prosper was required to consult with,” Romaine said.
The Court of Queen’s Bench judge noted Prosper has now waited 19 months for a decision on its
Rigel Oil Sands Project
about 85 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray. The SAGD project was approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator in June 2018. Since that time, the UCP government has been in power for 10 months, while the NDP was in power during the previous nine months that Prosper was waiting for a decision.
“On average, cabinet takes four months to issue a decision under the Oil Sands Conservation Act, and the longest period of time, other than for this applicant, has been seven months.”
The judge said cabinet decisions under the act are normally made in the order they are sent to the government by the regulator.
“At least two with AER approval have received orders in council (subsequent to Prosper),” Romaine said.
“Typically, projects receive decisions in the order they receive AER approval.”
She said that for Prosper to be granted an injunction compelling the province to make a ruling, it had to prove it had a compelling case, would suffer irreparable harm if denied and on a balance of probabilities an injunction was warranted.
Romaine said the company established all three grounds.
“Cabinet’s delay in making a decision was a breach of its duty under . . . the Oil Sands Conservation Act.”
She noted that without a decision soon, not only would the Rigel project be jeopardized but Prosper could be forced out of business.
Outside court, a smiling Prosper CEO Brad Gardiner said he was happy with Romaine’s decision.
“We’re pleased the judge decided in our favour,” Gardiner said.
“As we’ve said all along, 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,” he said.
The Fort McKay First Nation, which argues the Rigel project will have a negative effect on its Moose Lake management plan, has appealed the AER decision.
An energy ministry spokesman told The Canadian Press the province will appeal Romaine’s decision.
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