Ottawa must decide by end-February if Teck can build the C$20.6 billion ($15.7 billion) Frontier mine in northern Alberta, capable of eventually producing 260,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
If the minority Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says yes, it would call into question his promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. But saying no could infuriate Alberta, already angry over what local politicians claim is Ottawa’s bias against the energy industry.
“Cabinet can make a decision to approve, it can make a decision to reject, it can make a decision to delay,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters.
“I’m not going to opine on what that decision is going to be,” said Wilkinson, who must formally decide whether to approve the project or refer the matter to cabinet.
Officials say the final say will rest with cabinet, noting ministers have the power to ask for more information about the project. This would mean extending the end-February deadline.
“Obviously this government has made commitments with respect to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and we would have to ensure that they fit within that context,” said Wilkinson.
Alberta premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday that Frontier had been through years of rigorous environmental scrutiny and added “It’s time this C$20 billion project got approved.”
Trudeau has repeatedly said Canada will need to rely on crude oil for years to come as it moves to build a cleaner economy. The project has also split the country’s indigenous people, whose living standards Trudeau vows to improve.
“The Trudeau government needs to show us how they will support the workers and communities currently dependent on oil as we meet the 2050 deadline for a fossil fuel-free economy, not approve a massive new oil sands mine to operate until 2067,” said Greenpeace Canada campaigner Keith Stewart.