Both sides dig in over Lubicon blockade of oil access road in northern Alberta

LITTLE BUFFALO, Alta. – A dispute between the Lubicon First Nation and a Calgary oil company over access to land is heating up in northern Alberta.

The Lubicons, who have been blocking an access road to a PennWest Exploration (TSX:PWT) drilling site since late November, are warning four other energy companies they may face similar action.

“We’re not singling out any one company,” spokesman Garrett Tomlinson said Friday. “The bottom line is that if you’re on Lubicon land, you’ll have to abide by their laws.”

PennWest expected to be in court Friday to ask a judge for an injunction forcing the protesters to open the road.

“We were hopeful that the Alberta government would move to enforce our access to the site,” said company spokesman Greg Moffatt.

“They haven’t moved as quickly as we would have hoped and we’ve subsequently made the decision to apply to the courts for an enforcement order.”

The blockade is not supported by the Lubicon Lake Band, a separate group that has elected its own chief and council and is recognized by the federal government.

The dispute stems from decades-old attempts to work out a land claim for the Lubicon.

The band and the federal and provincial governments have been trying to work out a deal since the 1980s, coming closest in 1988 after a proposed settlement with traditional chief Bernard Ominayak and championed by then-premier Don Getty. That deal fell apart in 1995 over disputes about the size of the band.

The province continued to issue energy leases in the area, including around Haig Lake.

That early exploration was accompanied by discussions between PennWest and Ominayak’s group. But that stopped after last February’s election of Billy Joe Laboucan as chief of the federally recognized Lubicon band.

PennWest is legally obliged to deal with the recognized leadership, said Moffatt.

The Lubicon First Nation has filed two lawsuits over the current dispute.

One, filed last June, is an attempt to force the federal government to grant the First Nation a reserve. The second, filed Dec. 2, is a request for an injunction to get PennWest to end drilling on land claimed by the First Nation.

The four companies that have been warned they may face similar blockades are Mancal Energy, Lonepine Resources, Harvest Operations Corp. (TSX:HTE) and Trinidad Drilling (TSX:TDG).

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton