(Updates with comment from environmental activist)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The outcome of the Canadian government’s pending decision on whether to approve Teck Resources Ltd’s Frontier oil sands project is “anyone’s guess,” the company’s chief executive, Don Lindsay, said on Wednesday.
At full capacity, the C$20.6 billion ($15.67 billion) Frontier could produce 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen in northern Alberta, making it one of the largest in the oil sands. Canada has until the end of February to decide, although delay is an option, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Tuesday.
Frontier is expected to cause significant adverse effects to wetlands, old-growth forests, and a bison herd, according to a review panel that was established by the federal government and Alberta Energy Regulator.
“Remember, it’s not dirty oil,” Lindsay said at a CIBC investor conference in Banff, Alberta. “The carbon emissions are half the industry average in North America per barrel. This would actually displace dirty oil.”
A report on Frontier last year of a joint review panel, set up by the federal government and Alberta Energy Regulator, said that Teck’s evidence did not demonstrate how Frontier would achieve best-in-class emissions intensity as it claimed.
“The project will be (a) large emitter of greenhouse gases,” the report said.
Frontier is enthusiastically supported by Alberta, a province whose right-leaning government is often at odds with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the industry, which is reeling from job losses. Environmental groups fiercely oppose it, saying it will cause too much damage.
Lindsay said Teck has told the government that for it to build Frontier, it needs a pipeline to be built, a partner, and favorable oil prices.
That comment undercuts suggestions by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney that federal approval is the main remaining hurdle, said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada.
Teck told regulators it expects long-term oil prices exceeding $95 per barrel during most of Frontier’s operations from 2026-2066 - a level they have not reached since 2014.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said this month that the project is uneconomical if Teck is counting on an oil price that high. ($1 = 1.3142 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker