FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. (CP) - If Alberta's energy regulator bows to community pressure and delays Suncor's mammoth, $7-billion oilsands expansion, the company would be forced to revisit the entire proposal, an executive told a hearing on the project Tuesday.
"It's not a foregone conclusion that a one-year delay is just a one-year delay," said Terry Bachynski, Suncor's vice-president of regulatory approvals, told an Energy and Utilities Board hearing into the Voyageur proposal.
Municipal leaders in Fort McMurray, facing intense development pressure from the rapid pace of oilsands development and a possible $100 billion worth of additional projects over the next decade, have asked the regulator to consider slowing down approvals of new expansions.
Both the municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses Fort McMurray, and the Northern Lights Health Region have filed interventions with the board pointing out their concerns with the pace of growth.
Board member John Nichol asked Bachynski what would happen if Suncor was asked to delay the Voyageur project - a massive new bitumen upgrader and a mine extension - for a year to allow local officials to catch up a bit and adjust their plans.
"Suncor would have to revisit the project," said Bachynski.
Bachynski said the company has already committed itself to the purchase of materials and hiring of workers. Commitments in a project of Voyageur's size must be made years in advance, he said, and can't necessarily be put down and taken up again at a later date.
"If you don't take your window, you lose your opportunity," he told the board. "You miss your window, that opportunity's gone.
"We would be into a major revisit of the project."
A delay would also leave Suncor out-of-pocket.
"The company has crossed certain bridges with regard to financial commitments and that would just be lost money," Bachynski said.
Nichol then asked Bachynski what criteria the board should use to delay a project, if it decided such a move was needed.
Bachynski said the board should let oilsands producers decide when material and labour costs have become too inflated to proceed.
"The market decides what goes ahead and what doesn't, and I would expect that dynamic would affect the oilsands as well."
Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake has said the city, which has doubled its population to nearly 75,000 over the past nine years, simply can't keep up with the rate of growth. She said Monday the city is already "financially unsustainable."
The Northern Lights Health Region can't keep up either, said Dr. Allan Nicholson, chief medical officer of health.
"If the economy keeps on booming, we're going to have increased population, increased demand for services and not have the capability of having people provide those services," he said.
The region is already running a deficit of $18 million.
"We're not against the idea of development," Nicholson said. "What we're against is not making sure that when development does occur, we can provide the services that are required to the population."
Still, Nicholson doesn't expect community concerns to have much impact.
"This isn't going to be stopped," he said. "This is Alberta, and development takes precedence over everything else."