The delay has Imperial Oil complaining about a "protracted" environmental assessment process.
On Friday, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB), the primary environmental regulator, forwarded its environmental assessment to Andy Scott, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Once the report reaches the minister's desk it is anticipated it will take another four weeks to review and return the submission, said MVEIRB spokesman Roland Semjanovs.
That time lag will make it impossible for Imperial Oil to mobilize its workforce and equipment within the remainder of the winter season, said Imperial Oil spokesperson Hart Searle.
"The business community is ready, contracts are conditionally awarded, everything is ready to go and we can't pull the trigger. It's very frustrating," said Searle.
Duncan Canvin, interim president of the Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce, criticized MVEIRB for taking so long, but said he doesn't have much sympathy for Imperial Oil.
"Esso's a big boys company. They knew what the challenges were ... they knew that they should have filed a long time ago," he said.
"Everything will be in place for next winter so it will just be the willingness of Esso to see that the work gets done and that some of the benefits flow to the communities."
Canvin added he is hoping Imperial Oil will retain the contractors it conditionally selected for this year.
Hearings on the proposed project were held in Fort Simpson in early December.
Should the MVEIRB report be approved by the DIAND minister, and should the prescribed conditions be acceptable to Imperial Oil, the geo-tech project would be cleared to proceed next winter.
Imperial Oil's geo-tech programs in the Gwich'in, within the municipality of Norman Wells and in the Beaufort-Delta regions are going ahead, Searle said.
None of those projects required an environmental assessment.