Pipe­line un­cer­tainty clouds Sun­cor grand open­ing of Fort Hills oilsands site

Fort McMurray Today - - LOCAL NEWS - VIN­CENT MCDER­MOTT To­day Staff vm­c­der­mott@postmedia.com With files from Emma Graney

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.”

VIN­CENT MCDER­MOTT/FORT MCMURRAY TO­DAY/POSTMEDIA NET­WORK

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.

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