RMWB says eight oilsands companies owe roughly $38.8 million in taxes

Court documents show the RMWB is accusing Sunshine Oilsands of owing nearly $25 million in unpaid taxes. The company denies the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says it is owed $38.8 million in taxes from eight oilsands companies.

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For privacy reasons, a municipal spokesperson could not name which companies are accusing of owing taxes. However, a lawsuit from the RMWB alleges Sunshine Oilsands owes the municipality nearly $25 million. The company denies the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

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The money owed to the municipality has grown in recent years. At the end of 2022, the RMWB claimed roughly $30 million in unpaid property taxes from oilsands companies. In 2021, it was $24.6 million.

This growth has happened even after council forgave more than $4 million in tax debt owed by an insolvent oilsands company on a facility northeast of Fort McMurray. In January, Greenfire Resources Operating Corp. told council they wanted to buy the site, but the outstanding tax bill was too large for them. Without relief, they would not buy the property.

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Council was told if no one buys the property, the facility would go to the Alberta government’s orphan well program and the municipality would get no revenue from the site.

Oil and gas companies in Alberta owe rural municipalities roughly $251.8 million in unpaid property taxes, according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).

The RMA  say energy companies are taking advantage of what it calls the Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) “hands-off approach to regulation,” which it says allows certain companies with no plans to grow to avoid paying property taxes.

The RMA said the AER has taken a “hands-off approach to regulation” and McLauchlin accused the regulator of being a “cheerleader” instead of a regulator.

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“Companies continue to profit from Alberta’s resources while ignoring their community obligations and funnelling profits to executives and shareholders,” Paul McLauchlin, president of the RMA, said in a statement.

The RMA wants a phased approach to enforcing property tax bills that would result in repayment timelines linked to a company’s level of risk.

The AER meanwhile says applicants for a well license cannot owe more than $20,000 in municipal taxes as of last May. The regulator says it is working with local governments to identify which oil companies owe property taxes. However, the regulator adds municipalities are responsible for municipal taxes.

In a statement to Postmedia, Energy Minister Brian Jean’s office said it will consider the RMA’s suggestions.

“Alberta’s government will consider the RMA’s suggestions and continue working with them on ways to resolve this ongoing issue. Most companies pay their taxes, but we understand why municipalities are frustrated by overdue property taxes owed by some oil and gas companies,” Jean’s office wrote.

-with reporting from Matt Scace

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