Canada OK’s three new oil sands projects

The Canadian province of Alberta, the heart of the oil sands industry, has approved three new projects worth about $3 billion (Cdn$4bn) of potential investments, which could add up to 95,000 barrels of oil per day to current output.

Blackpearl Resources’s Blackrod, Surmont Energy’s Wildwood, and Husky Energy’s Saleski are the first projects to get the green light since Alberta set a 100-megatonne greenhouse gas cap on oil sands emissions.

The proposed operations, worth about $3 billion in potential investments, could add up to 95,000 barrels of oil per day to current output.

"The emissions limit is the first of its kind set by an energy-producing jurisdiction," Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in a statement. "It positions Alberta as an environmental leader while allowing room for development."

The provincial government noted that two of the proposed oil sands operations involve the use of steam stimulation, the most common set of techniques for extracting heavy crude oil used in the province.

Those so-called in situ methods don’t need large tailings ponds, so they don’t create vast landscape disturbances as do open-pit mines. Because of that, they are often described as more environmentally friendly. That notion, however, has recently been called into question.

The approval of the three proposals follows a thorough review by the Alberta Energy Regulator. The firms involved, however, still need to make final investment decisions and work with regulators on specific licences and approvals.

Alberta could use the projected investment, as the province was severely hurt in spring by wildfires that ravaged the Fort McMurray area, shutting down about 1 million barrels per day worth of oil production.

Alberta estimated the cost of the blazes in about $390 million, while Canada's overall economy shrank in the second quarter of the year to levels not seen since 2009, mostly due to the fires.