Teck Resources Ltd. is sticking to its support for the Fort Hills oil sands joint venture as the diversified miner vows to weather low commodity prices and maintain the financial muscle required for capital spending in northern Alberta.
The Fort Hills project is led by Calgary-based Suncor Energy Inc., which holds a 40.8-per-cent stake. France's Total SA has a 39.2-per-cent interest, while Teck owns 20 per cent of the venture, located roughly 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
"The short-term oil price weakness does not affect our decision on a 50-year asset," Teck chief executive officer Don Lindsay said during a webcast of BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.'s mining conference Tuesday. "All three of us are fully committed to finishing the project. By the end of this year, we should be 50- to 55-per-cent complete. At this point, about $11-billion of the $15-billion of contracts have been committed, all within the range that we expected, so off to a really good start in the first 16 months of construction and now the environment is even better."
Teck is a low-cost producer of steel-making coking (or metallurgical) coal – still making money, despite depressed coal prices.
The Vancouver-based mining company, which runs five coking coal mines in southeast B.C. and one in Alberta, has committed to sending 19 million tonnes annually of coal over the next six years through Westshore Terminals Investment Corp.'s site at Roberts Bank, located 35 kilometres south of Vancouver.
"Long life is very important to us and currently we have resources to mine for 100 years in steel-making coal, 30 years in copper, over 20 years officially in zinc, but we believe an awful lot longer than that and over 50 years in energy," Mr. Lindsay said.
Teck's reserves have positioned it well for the long term and provides executives with the confidence to back Fort Hills.
Slumping oil prices currently around $50 (U.S.) a barrel for West Texas intermediate crude translate into reduced fuel bills for trucks and other equipment at Teck's mining operations.
"A low oil price is very, very good for Teck for the next three years. In fact, my preference would be about $40 this year, next year and 2017. And then back to $70 or even $80 would be just fine," Mr. Lindsay said.
He expects oil prices to rebound gradually. "The oil-rig count in North America is falling and is down about 35 per cent in [the] last 12 weeks. In the long term, that means less supply and meanwhile the low oil price, of course, encourages demand and so we do think this thing eventually rights itself," Mr. Lindsay said.
Teck shares gained 53 cents (Canadian) to $19.21 on Tuesday, but are down 70 per cent from their record-high of $64.62 in 2011.