The provincial government of Alberta approved three oil sands projects last week. The capital cost involved will amount to roughly a combined C$4 billion (US$3 billion) if the projects are built to their design capacity. The province’s oil industry welcomed the news, which comes after the Alberta government set a 100-megatonne per year cap on emissions from oil sands projects earlier this year. The government is still working out the details of how it will implement the emissions cap.
The government approved BlackPearl Resources’s Blackrod project, Husky Energy’s Saleski and Surmont Energy’s Wildwood venture. Combined, the projects hold around 95,000 barrels of potential production. According to Alberta Energy, the provincial energy ministry, they would produce 2.5 megatonnes per year of emissions compared with the 70 megatonnes per year of emissions currently produced by the oil sands.
Opponents, however, criticised the approvals. The head of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign, Keith Stewart, said it made no sense to add to the “already extremely long queue” of proposed oil sands projects.
“The low price of oil has put all these projects on hold, but the accelerating transition to renewable energy will keep them there,” he added.
A spokesman for Alberta Energy, Brad Hartle, said the three projects “are not the first to be approved by the government, but they are the first under the Climate Leadership Plan.”
Before a decision was made, recommendations were given by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that the projects be approved, several environmental assessments were carried out and discussions were held with local indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
Surmont’s CEO, Mark Smith, said the approval of the projects was a “major step that’s been several years in the making”. He added that Surmont had submitted an application in October 2012 and faced a number of obstacles including regulatory changes and a new government. “It took a lot longer than we imagined it would,” Smith said.
Surmont, BlackPearl and Husky have yet to make final investment decisions (FIDs) on the projects.