The Alberta Energy Regulator has approved a new northern Alberta tar sands/oil sands extraction project over the objections of local Indigenous communities concerned about its proximity to their traditional lands.
In a decision posted on its website, the Canadian Press reports, the AER has declared the 10,000-barrel-per-day Rigel project to be “in the public interest”.
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At AER hearings earlier in the year, both the Fort McKay Metis Community Association and the Fort McKay First Nation declared their opposition to the project, saying it would put at risk a body of water long considered sacred by Indigenous peoples of the region. They’ve both now issued strong protests in the wake of the ruling.
Declaring itself unsurprised that the panel found in favour of Calgary-based Prosper Petroleum Ltd, the Fort McKay First Nation “has started legal action against the government of Alberta and the AER,” writes CP. The Metis Community Association will meet shortly to determine its own response, said Executive Director Eddison Lee-Johnson.
While the panel said it accepts as “genuine” fears that tar sands/oil sands development is imperiling Indigenous connections to the land around Fort McKay, CP states, it found no “evidence that the Rigel project itself will cause a loss of connection and relationship,” noting “that the operating Sunshine Oilsands project and exploration projects by other companies are also located nearby.”
While the AER asserted that “social and economic issues and potential impacts on Indigenous and treaty rights were considered in its decision,” Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher countered that “the AER interprets its mandate very narrowly with respect to protecting our rights as Cree and Dene people.”
The regulator ” 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,” he added.
CP says Prosper Petroleum has declared its commitment to address its neighbours’ concerns. “We have tried to design our project to minimize impact on their ability to practice traditional rights, and we will continue to work with them as we go forward with the project,” said CEO Brad Gardiner.