First Nation sues Alberta, says oilsands project threatens sacred site

Prosper Petroleum’s $440-million, 10,000-barrel-a-day plans have been vigorously opposed by Fort McKay

An Alberta First Nation is suing the province over development approvals that the band says threaten sacred land the government has promised to protect.

“We will not stand idly by and let the area be destroyed,” Jim Boucher, chief of the Fort McKay First Nation, said in a release.

Fort McKay, a community of 800 about 80 kilometres from Fort McMurray, is surrounded by open-pit oilsands mines on three sides. The closest is within four kilometres.

Band members have long considered the pristine area around Moose and Namur lakes, west of the community, their last refuge for traditional hunting, trapping and berry-picking. The lawsuit argues there has been so much development in the region — from energy exploration to forestry to agriculture — that Moose Lake is all Fort McKay has left.

“Without the preservation of the Moose Lake area, the plaintiffs will no longer be able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights,” says the statement of claim, which contains allegations that have not yet been proven in court.

“(Moose Lake) is now under imminent threat from industrial activity that has been or will be approved by Alberta.”

The provincial government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The alleged threat comes from an approval granted last June by the province’s energy regulator for an oilsands project that would come within two kilometres of Moose Lake. Prosper Petroleum’s $440-million, 10,000-barrel-a-day plans were vigorously opposed by Fort McKay at the time.

The green light came despite a provincial draft plan — the result of 15 years of talks under several different governments — to give the area some protection.

That plan contemplated a 10-kilometre zone around Moose and Namur lakes with safeguards for protecting Fort McKay’s land use. It would have established access control, environmental monitoring and thresholds for the surrounding region.

The Alberta Energy Regulator said at the time that it had taken into account social and economic issues, as well as impacts on treaty rights.

However, the regulator said it couldn’t weigh the approval’s effect on the province’s plan for the lake area because that plan was still being discussed and hadn’t been implemented.

The lawsuit asks the court to overturn permits for industrial activity within the 10-kilometre zone. It also asks the court to forbid Alberta from authorizing any more activity in the area unless Fort McKay agrees to it.

“Alberta has failed to … protect the Moose Lake area from the impacts of industrial development,” the statement of claim says. “Alberta will continue, unless restrained from doing so, to undertake or approve industrial development within the Moose Lake area.”

Prosper Petroleum has said it is committed to addressing its neighbours’ concerns.

The company would use steam injected into shallow horizontal wells to melt heavy, sticky bitumen crude and allow it to drip into a parallel well before being pumped to the surface, where it would be transported by truck to a buyer or pipeline.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs enter second day

Federal and provincial ministers ready to extend discussions

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

Terrace cab stolen, found destroyed along Hwy 16 riverbank at rest stop near Prince Rupert

Driver was sent to hospital after stealing the running vehicle from company lot

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Stories of sexual assault at B.C. tree planting camps ‘shocking but not surprising:’ advocate

Contractors’ association is working with trainers to create respectful culture

Lawyer gets house arrest for possessing child porn

Maple Ridge resident gets nine-month term

Notorious B.C. fugitive to be extradited from California on murder charge

Brandon Nathan Teixeira submitted to extradition during court proceedings Thursday in Sacramento

Canada prepared to monitor for community spread of COVID-19: Tam

The U.S. confirmed one case of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in California Thursday

Decade-long health care battle draws to a close today in B.C.

Dr. Brian Day began his battle a decade ago against the B.C. government

Most Read