​Alberta government asks court to stay judge's order regarding oilsands decision

A judge has been asked to stay a court order that requires the Alberta government to make an immediate decision on a proposed oilsands project near Fort McMurray.

Last week, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Barbara Romaine gave the province 10 days to make a decision on the Rigel project.

Prosper Petroleum Ltd. argued in court on Wednesday that waiting for the last 19 months for the province to decide on the project has been unreasonable.

The 10,000-barrel-a-day, steam-driven project would be built in the Moose Lake area, about 70 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray. It was initially proposed in 2013 and approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator in June 2018.

Government lawyer Doreen Mueller told Appeal Court Justice Jo'Anne Strekaf the “coercing mandatory order'' should be put on hold until a quick appeal can be heard.

“What the stay is seeking is a restraint of the execution of the mandatory order,'' said Mueller.

"The order calls on cabinet to make its decision on Friday. And the appeal can't possibly be determined by Friday.''

She said it is not in the public interest to force cabinet to make a decision earlier than it intended.

“There's no evidence here that cabinet is acting in any improper way or for any improper motive. It's just taking longer.”

The Moose Lake region is sacred to the Fort McKay First Nation. An agreement to protect the area was reached under former Alberta premier Jim Prentice but was never ratified.

The project was recently the subject of a meeting between Indigenous leaders and members of the provincial cabinet. The two sides agreed to meet again in April.

A lawyer for Prosper Petroleum urged the judge Wednesday to reject the request for a stay. They said such a move would be “extraordinary.''

“What Alberta seems to miss and, with respect, what this court might miss is Prosper may not be here if the delay goes any further,'' argued Maureen Killoran.

“Delay has harmed Prosper to the point that the survival of the project and the survival of the company is in jeopardy.''

Killoran said the delay is costing the company $130,000 a day and Prosper has already invested $65 million in the project over seven years.

Prosper went to court as a last resort, she said, and cabinet is a “reluctant decision-maker.'”

``We say Alberta's hands are not clean. Cabinet has already been well- briefed and they just need to decide,'' Killoran said.

“We say there is no harm in compelling cabinet to do its job. After a 19-month unprecedented delay – make a decision .''

Strekaf was to rule on a stay Wednesday afternoon.

A lawyer for Fort McKay also attended the hearing and asked that the First Nation be made a party in the appeal or be granted intervener status.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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