Pipeline uncertainty clouds Suncor grand opening of Fort Hills oilsands site
Premier Rachel Notley vowed to continue fighting for new pipelines at the Monday morning ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Fort Hills oilsands mine site north of Fort Mcmurray.
The new technology, business partnerships with local Indigenous communities and the more than 1,400 full-time jobs currently at the site were mentioned frequently during the opening ceremony.
So too was the recent federal court decision that forced construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to halt.
“We are frustrated and — let’s go with it, angry — about the recent court decision on Trans Mountain,” she said.
“Alberta and Albertans have done everything right, and so far it hasn’t worked. But we are not going to let it rest. We are going to keep fighting for our resources.”
During her speech, Notley again challenged the federal government to get construction of the 1,150-kilometre pipeline back on track.
“We are being crystal clear to everyone involved. We need a clear and reliable path forward to get this project done not in months, but in weeks,” she said. “Canada doesn’t work if you, the people in this room, do not work.”
Talking to media afterwards, Notley said the Alberta government does not have the authority to launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on its own.
However if an appeal is filed, then Alberta would apply for intervener status.
“They’re consulting with their lawyers, we’re consulting with our lawyers,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure we have the most secure and reliable path forward.”
Suncor chief executive officer Steve Williams said he was also disappointed with the court ruling on Trans Mountain.
Last week, Williams told an investor conference in New York that the company will not approve oilsands production expansions until he sees progress on Canadian pipeline projects.
“It is an issue for the industry and it does put a damper on the industry,” he told reporters. “It’s very difficult if you’re trying to build a case for a new business when you can’t have a degree of confidence that if you go through all the application stages, you still don’t get approval.”
Trans Mountain’s delay should not hurt current operations for Suncor, including at Fort Hills, as market access for existing projects has already been arranged, he said.
“We still think these pipelines will get constructed, so I think in the mid to long run there’s still significant growth involved,” he said.
Notley said she did not blame Williams for deciding to delay expansions in the oilsands following the court ruling.
“There’s no question that generally speaking in the mid to longer term, we do need to be able to provide greater certainty to investors,” she said. “It’s not really a news flash that people are expressing some hesitation and concern as a result of that decision.”
Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi chose to not be as direct as Notley when he made his speech.
Fort Hills will create jobs “while advancing environmental sustainability,” he said, adding Canadians must work together to meet global oil demands.
“And that includes building new pipelines,” he said.
He told reporters after the ribbon-cutting ceremony that Ottawa is mulling other steps including an appeal and new legislation to get construction back on track, but said a decision has not been reached.
“We also believe in moving forward on this project in a timely fashion and understand the urgency of it,” Sohi said. “We do not want to make a decision in haste that will get us into the same position as we are in today.”
Fort Hills will produce close to 194,000 barrels per day through a process lowering the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional oilsands extraction.
It is also the largest business investment to date by a First Nations entity in Canada, with the Fort Mckay and Mikisew Cree First Nations owning 48 per cent of the site’s east tank farm.
A decade in the making, Fort Hills achieved oil production in January. The project is a joint venture between Suncor, Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. and Parisbased Total SA.
It was approved in 2002 but was delayed in 2008 for five years due to the global financial crisis.
Up to 9,000 people worked at the site during its construction peak. That has been whittled down to 1,400 steady operational jobs.
Williams called the project the “new face of oilsands,” with new technologies reducing the carbon footprint of each oilsands barrel to around that of the average barrel produced in North America.
“We can compete now with the best in the world,” he said.
“When you take that longterm view, you’re ensuring a better future for those who follow.”
Suncor CEO Steve Williams, Chief Jim Bouchier of the Fort Mckay First Nation, Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Alberta Energy Minister Marg Mccuaig-boyd and Premier Rachel Notley talk at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Fort Hills oilsands operation north of Fort Mcmurray on Monday, September 10, 2018.