12/17/2013 05:50 EST | Updated 02/16/2014 05:59 EST

Imperial Oil Aspen Project: Company Seeks Approval For New $7-Billion Oilsands Operation

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People under signage for Esso and Imperial Oil, as they pass Fifth Avenue place, photographed with a tilt shift lens, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013. Statistics Canada (STCA) is scheduled to release June gross domestic product figures on Aug. 30. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CALGARY - Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) has applied for regulatory approval to build a new oilsands project northeast of Fort McMurray, Alta., which would cost an estimated $7 billion.

Company spokesman Pius Rolheiser emphasized the price tag is "very preliminary" and there's a good chance it could change as engineering work proceeds.

"As project definition advances and as market conditions evolve, obviously it has the potential to impact the cost estimate," he said.

Imperial would use steam-assisted gravity drainage technology to extract the bitumen, injecting steam deep underground to liquefy the bitumen so that it can flow to the surface.

It's also considering using solvents to improve recovery, cut water use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The solvent technology is being tested at Imperial's massive Cold Lake oilsands operations in eastern Alberta.

Imperial, majority owned by Houston-based energy giant ExxonMobil Corp., expects to build Aspen in three, 45,000-barrel-per-day phases.

The board of directors could decide whether to proceed as early as 2017, with startup as early as 2020.

Imperial has a number of other potential opportunities in the oilsands, including its Corner and Clyden leases near Fort McMurray and Grand Rapids on its Cold Lake lease.

The first phase of its $12.9-billion Kearl oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray started up earlier this year.

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