Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online
VANCOUVER — Three years ago, Teck was going to spend $20 billion on its Frontier Oil Sands Mine. On Feb. 2, it announced it had “completed the sale of its 21.3 per cent interest in the Fort Hills Energy Limited Partnership to Suncor Energy Inc. and TotalEnergies EP Canada Ltd. , a subsidiary of TotalEnergies SE. Teck received aggregate cash proceeds of approximately $1 billion and does not anticipate any tax payable on the disposition.”
One of Canada’s largest miners was going to go big on oils sands, but now it is going home, driven away by the federal government’s anti-oil stance.
This is how the project was described on the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada website:
Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project
The Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project, proposed by Teck Resources Limited includes the construction, operation and reclamation of an oil sands surface mine with a production capacity of about 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen. The project is located in northeastern Alberta, approximately 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The project is a truck and shovel mine which includes two open pits, an ore preparation plant, a bitumen processing plant, tailings preparation and management facilities, cogeneration facilities, support utilities, disposal and storage areas, river water intake, a fish habitat compensation lake, bridge, roads, airfield and camp. The estimated project area is over 24,000 hectares. If the project is approved, the proposed project would operate for 41 years.
That operation, alone, would have been equal to roughly half of Saskatchewan’s oil production. It was first proposed in 2011. But on Feb. 23, 2020, Teck withdrew from the regulatory review process, taking a $1.13 billion write down.
At the time, Teck President and CEO Don Lindsay wrote a scathing open letter to federal Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson. In it, he said, “The promise of Canada’s potential will not be realized until governments can reach agreement around how climate policy considerations will be addressed in the context of future responsible energy sector development. Without clarity on this critical question, the situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects and it will be very difficult to attract future investment, either domestic or foreign.”
The Impact Assessment Agency website notes that the environmental assessment was commenced on Jan. 9, 2012. That 2012 application noted, “If the Project is approved, the proponent proposes to start producing oil in 2021.”
Eight years in, Teck still didn’t have an answer by the time it terminated the project.
The CEO’s letter of Feb. 23, 2020 read:
I am writing to advise that after careful consideration Teck has made the difficult decision to formally withdraw our regulatory application for the Frontier oil sands project from the federal environmental assessment process.
We are disappointed to have arrived at this point. Teck put forward a socially and environmentally responsible project that was industry leading and had the potential to create significant economic benefits for Canadians. Frontier has unprecedented support from Indigenous communities and was deemed to be in the public interest by a joint federal-provincial review panel following weeks of public hearings and a lengthy regulatory process. Since the original application in 2011 we have, as others in the industry have done, continued to optimize the project to further confirm it is commercially viable.
Teck is extremely proud of the work done on this project and the strong relationships that we have formed with local governments, labour organizations, scientists, researchers and many other stakeholders, as well as with affected Indigenous communities. We believe that our agreements with Indigenous communities on Frontier, and very recently the work undertaken by the Alberta government with Indigenous communities in the region, form an important foundation for the future, and we applaud them for this milestone achievement.
However, global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products. This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project. Questions about the societal implications of energy development, climate change and Indigenous rights are critically important ones for Canada, its provinces and Indigenous governments to work through.
I want to make clear that we are not merely shying away from controversy. The nature of our business dictates that a vocal minority will almost inevitably oppose specific developments. We are prepared to face that sort of opposition. Frontier, however, has surfaced a broader debate over climate change and Canada’s role in addressing it. It is our hope that withdrawing from the process will allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward. Ultimately, that should take place without a looming regulatory deadline.
Resource development has been at the heart of the Canadian economy for generations. Resource sectors including the Alberta oil sands create jobs; build roads, schools and hospitals; and contribute to a better standard of living for all Canadians. At the same time, there is an urgent need to reduce global carbon emissions and support action on climate change.
As a proudly Canadian company for over 100 years, we know these two priorities do not have to be in conflict. Our nation is uniquely positioned with abundant natural resources coupled with strong environmental regulations and a deeply engrained culture of social responsibility. We can build on that foundation and be a global provider of sustainable, climate-smart resources to support the world’s transition to a low carbon future. And yes, that can include low-carbon energy produced from the Alberta oil sands from projects like Frontier, using best-in-class technology, which would displace less environmentally and ethically sound oil sources.
At Teck, we believe deeply in the need to address climate change and believe that Canada has an important role to play globally as a responsible supplier of natural resources. We support strong actions to enable the transition to a low carbon future. We are also strong supporters of Canada’s action on carbon pricing and other climate policies such as legislated caps for oil sands emissions.
The promise of Canada’s potential will not be realized until governments can reach agreement around how climate policy considerations will be addressed in the context of future responsible energy sector development. Without clarity on this critical question, the situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects and it will be very difficult to attract future investment, either domestic or foreign.
Teck has not taken this decision lightly. It is our hope that the decision to withdraw will help to create both the space and impetus needed for this critical discussion to take place for the benefit of all Canadians.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Teck Resources Limited
Teck’s press release noted, “As one of Canada’s leading mining companies, Teck is committed to responsible mining and mineral development with major business units focused on copper, zinc, and steelmaking coal. Copper, zinc and high-quality steelmaking coal are required for the transition to a low-carbon world.”
The deal to sell Fort Hills was announced last year, noting it would sell its stake in Fort Hills to Suncor, one of two other partners in the project, for about $1 billion, according to The Canadian Press. CP added, “But in January, third partner TotalEnergies announced it would exercise its contractual right of first refusal to acquire an additional 6.65 per cent in the project from Teck for $312 million.
“With the closing of the sale, TotalEnergies will own 31.23 per cent of Fort Hills, and Suncor will own the rest. Suncor, which is the operator of the project, paid $688 million to acquire its additional 14.65 per cent interest from Teck, which now no longer owns a stake in the oilsands.”
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