Teck wants approval for its C$20.6 billion ($15.5 billion) Frontier project, which involves an open pit mine to eventually produce 260,000 barrels per day (bpd). The mine in northern Alberta would open in 2026 and operate until 2067.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is supposed to decide by the end of February.
Regulators recommended approving the project in July, saying economic benefits outweighed “significant adverse effects” on the environment and indigenous communities.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told Reuters he could not “pre-judge” the outcome of a decision that might involve a cabinet vote, “but what I will say is the issue around climate and the integrity of our climate plan will be one of the very significant issues that will be discussed.”
Trudeau, who secured re-election in October, promised Canada would achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050. But he lost his majority in parliament in the vote and failed to win a single seat in Alberta, which produces 80% of Canada’s crude.
Residents in Alberta and in neighbouring Saskatchewan, another oil producing region, have felt increasingly alienated since the 2014-15 global oil price crash, which drove up unemployment and hurt growth in the western provinces.
The government would be “as responsive as we possibly can to the concerns and aspirations of the folks who live in those regions,” Wilkinson said in an interview on the sidelines of a United Nations climate summit in Madrid.
Alberta’s regional leader, Jason Kenney, met Trudeau this week to seek more support for the energy industry in the world’s fourth largest oil producer, including backing for Teck’s plans.
“If this project does not proceed, it would be a clear indication that there is no way forward for this country’s largest natural resource,” Kenney said on Monday.
Environmentalists oppose the project. Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said the Teck mine was an “early litmus test” for the government’s climate commitments.
“You can’t be serious about zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 if you approve a mega-project that would pump out 6 million tonnes per year until 2067,” Stewart said.