Slowdown an opportunity to assess oilsands

CALGARY — The federal environment minister says the economic slowdown provides a perfect opportunity to take stock of future oilsands development in Alberta.

CALGARY — The federal environment minister says the economic slowdown provides a perfect opportunity to take stock of future oilsands development in Alberta.

“Effectively, because of the economic circumstances we’re in, we’ve had a de facto moratorium on oilsands development because of the nature of the economy,” Jim Prentice said Tuesday.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to take stock to make sure that all of the projects are being thoroughly reviewed, that it’s being done in a sustainable way and that we have all of the requisite due diligence in terms of the environment.”

As the economy has struggled around the globe, energy prices have fallen, and the frantic pace of oilsands-related development has been mostly in a holding pattern since last fall.

Many of the more than $80 billion in projects planned for Upgrader Alley near Edmonton to process raw bitumen have been delayed indefinitely and oilsands developers are expecting to cut project spending by $97 billion.

It’s a different scenario than even a year ago when a booming Alberta was criticized nationally and internationally for the frantic pace of oilsands expansion in the area around Fort McMurray. There were questions from opponents about whether the government had lost control of development, criticism from environmentalists about effects on wildlife and rivers and concern from the oil city that infrastructure was not keeping pace with a burgeoning population of workers and their families.

Canada is the biggest exporter of oil to the United States and a lot of it comes from the sticky oilsands which have reserves that are second in size only to Saudi Arabia’s.

“It’s … important to note that this is a strategic resource for Alberta, for Canada, and it is a resource that we need to develop and will develop,” said Prentice. “But we have to be the most environmentally responsible producers of energy in the world so this gives us some time to do that and I believe that is the right thing to do.”

The Alberta government has rejected suggestions that the growth rate in the oilsands was too fast.

Premier Ed Stelmach acknowledges that the recession is giving his government time to build new infrastructure such as roads and waste treatment facilities in Fort McMurray. But he said the slowdown isn’t presenting any other advantage that he can see.

“The slowdown has occurred dramatically,” Stelmach said. “We’re working very closely with industry but the fact is there is a considerable slowdown — and you’ve seen it in share prices in the number of companies there.”

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