Total's Alberta oil sands project gets approved

Thu Dec 8, 2011 3:53pm EST
 
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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The Canadian government gave Total SA approval on Thursday to start construction on its C$9 billion ($8.9 billion) Joslyn North oil sands project in Alberta, marking the fifth mining development in the vast crude deposit.

Total, the French oil major, and its Canadian, U.S. and Japanese partners aim to start production in 2018, hitting a peak of 100,000 barrels a day.

While the company welcomed Ottawa's go-ahead, following a six-year regulatory review, it has yet to make its final decision on whether to proceed with the massive project.

The decision will be made "in the near future," Jean-Michel Gires, the head of Total's Canadian unit, told reporters. "In the meantime we are going push early works at the field level and finish engineering studies."

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced the decision as controversy spreads at home and abroad over the environmental impact of developing and transporting oil sands crude. Ottawa has made boosting and diversifying exports of the unconventional oil - possibly to Asia - a top priority.

The tar sands of northern Alberta are the world's third-largest oil reserves, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but the largest open to private investment. While the region is the biggest source of U.S. oil imports, separating the tarry bitumen from the sands and refining it into gasoline and other products produces more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.

Environmental groups at the United Nations climate summit in Durban, South Africa, have been sharply critical of Ottawa's aim to foster more development of the resource, which accounts for rising emissions of greenhouse gases.

"Approving Total's Joslyn tar sands mine during the UN climate summit in Durban is like poking the international process in the eye," Gillian McEachern, Environmental Defense's deputy campaign director, said in a statement. "...Canada's reputation has already been battered on the world stage because we're siding with big polluters instead of taking action on global warming, and this new tar sands mine will reinforce that."

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