December 3, 2012 / 11:49 PM / in 5 years

UPDATE 1-Suncor to boost spending 9 percent to C$7.3 bln

* Production pegged at 570,000-620,000 bpd

* Plans decision on Voyageur upgrader by end of March

* C$4.2 billion earmarked for oil sands

CALGARY, Alberta, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc , Canada’s largest energy company, said on Monday it will spend C$7.3 billion ($7.4 billion) in 2013, up 9 percent from this year’s reduced amount, with most of the budget directed at expanding its leading oil sands production.

Under new Chief Executive Steve Williams, Suncor spent about C$850 million less than initially budgeted this year as it sought to cut costs and improve profitability.

The company also said it was pushing forward its deadline for making a decision on building a new multibillion-dollar oil sands processing plant in northern Alberta to the end of March.

In early November, Williams said the surging shale oil output from regions such as the Bakken in North Dakota was squeezing the economics of the proposed 200,000-barrel-a-day Voyageur upgrader Suncor is designing in partnership with France’s Total SA.

The plant, which would turn bitumen from the oil sands into refinery-ready light crude, would serve Suncor and Total mines.

“Together with our joint venture partner, we have accelerated the review of the Voyageur project with the intent to reach a decision by the end of the first quarter in 2013,” Williams said in a statement. “Until a decision is made, we have agreed to minimize spending on this project.”

Suncor, the dominant Canadian oil sands producer, operates its sprawling mining operation north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. It owns a stake in the Syncrude Canada joint venture and has been expanding its steam-driven tar sands operation, called Firebag.

The company also has extensive offshore production off the Newfoundland Coast and in the North Sea.

It said overall oil and gas production is expected to average 570,000-620,000 barrels a day next year. That compares with a 2012 estimate of 540,000-580,000 barrels a day.

Oil sands production should increase by 12 percent, largely due to the startup of the fourth stage at Firebag, where Suncor injects steam into the earth to loosen up the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.

Overall oil sands spending is pegged at C$4.2 billion. Suncor also plans to spend C$1.1 billion on exploration and production and C$730 million on its refining operations.

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