Imperial Oil CEO slams Alberta curtailments as Kenney seeks to end intervention

Interview with Exxon Mobil Gas & Power Marketing chairman Brad Corson. St. George's Building, Central. 11 April 2006. (Photo by David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

Imperial Oil’s (IMO.TO) new chief executive officer is encouraged by the Alberta premier’s intention to wind down its oil curtailment program before the year’s end. But Brad Corson vows the company’s $2.6-billion Aspen oilsands project will remain “off the table” until that happens. 

Corson assumed the top job at Imperial on Jan. 1, replacing Rich Kruger, who served as chief executive at the Calgary-based energy producer since 2013. Like his predecessor, Corson is a vocal opponent of Alberta’s government-imposed limits on oil production. 

“Obviously we continue to be disappointed by the ongoing curtailments that exist. We certainly want to see that eliminated,” he told analysts on a conference call following the release of the company’s fourth quarter financial results.

Imperial cited “uncertainty stemming from the Alberta government intervention and other industry competitiveness challenges,” last March when it announced it would sideline development at its Aspen oilsands project in Northern Alberta. 

Corson said those concerns persist, even as the province eases the curtailments and gives new exemptions for oil shipped by rail. He said while those concessions offer “some flexibility” for the industry to increase production, the move does not impact the company’s stance on Aspen’s development. 

Aspen was first announced in November 2018. Imperial said the project would create 700 jobs during construction, 200 jobs during operation, and produce 75,000 barrels of bitumen per day. The company projected the Alberta government would receive $10 billion in royalty revenue and the federal government would receive more than $4 billion in royalty revenue over the life of the project. 

“While curtailment continues, there continues to be uncertainty around long term investment economics and the ability to get product out of Alberta and maximize the value of our production,” said Corson. “While curtailment exists, we've said Aspen is off the table. I don't see that changing.”

Earlier this month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he sees “no realistic scenario” that would extend curtailment into 2021.

“I'm encouraged by the comments that the Alberta government has made where they indicated that they would expect curtailment to be eliminated by the end of the year,” Corson said.