CALGARY, Alberta/PARIS (Reuters) - Canada’s Suncor Energy Inc is in a dispute with Total SA after the French company said it would not provide any more funding for the Fort Hills oil sands project in northern Alberta, the two companies said on Thursday.
The 194,000-barrel-per-day mining project is a joint venture between Suncor, Total and Teck Resources Ltd.
Earlier this year Suncor upped its Fort Hills capital costs estimate to C$16.5 billion-C$17 billion, from C$15.1 billion. On Wednesday the Canadian company said it would bring forward some project spending earmarked for 2018 into this year.
Suncor Chief Executive Steve Williams said the dispute with Total was “frustrating” but would not affect plans for Fort Hills to start producing oil by the end of 2017 because it was already 92 percent complete.
“Total has chosen not to approve or provide additional project sanction funding and as a result we are now in the early stages of a commercial dispute,” Williams told analysts on a second-quarter earnings call.
Williams declined to give details when asked specifically whether the dispute arose because Suncor had brought forward spending.
Suncor is accelerating work on Fort Hills, aiming to finish some aspects like hydrotesting this year instead in 2018.
Total’s refusal to provide extra funding is the latest example of international oil majors baulking at the cost of oil sands development.
Other firms have sold off around $23 billion in Canadian assets this year alone and Total has also trimmed its stake in Fort Hills in 2015 by selling 10 percent to Suncor.
Earlier this year, Total wrote off a portion of Fort Hills because of cost increases. This was done in the first quarter, Total Chief Financial Officer Patrick de la Chevardiere told analysts in a call following Total’s second-quarter earnings on Thursday.
“Basically, we are not ready for a substantial cost increase in the Fort Hills mine from the operator, that is what has led to what is called a commercial dispute by Suncor who is the operator of the mine,” he said.
Total had said it was looking to reduce exposure to Canada’s oil sands, which hold the world’s third largest crude reserves but also carry some of the highest full-cycle operating costs globally.
Suncor shares was up 1 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange at C$39.37, in line with gains across the energy sector on higher oil prices.
Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Richard Chang