LONDON - British energy giant BP has welcomed key progress in its plan controversially to extract oil from Canadian sands, with a company spokesman on Tuesday describing the step as a "significant milestone".
Canadian group Husky Energy, BP's joint-venture partner, said on Monday that it was giving the go-ahead for the project's first phase.
A BP spokesman said the move was "a significant milestone" for the British company.
"We will now move forward . . . leading to first production in 2014," he told AFP.
At an estimated 175 billion barrels, Alberta's oil sands are the second largest oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia, but they were neglected for years, except by local companies, because of high extraction costs.
Since 2000, skyrocketing crude oil prices and improved extraction methods have made exploitation more economical, and have lured several multinational oil companies to mine the sands.
But environmentalists oppose extraction from sands, claiming it produces three to five times more carbon emissions than conventional oil production and pollutes waterways.
BP, which was at the heart of an environmental crisis earlier this year due to a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has said that the oil or tar sands project is crucial in helping meet the world's energy needs up to 2030.