Still Sweet on Suncor

Have I mentioned how huge Suncor's (NYSE: SU  ) oil sands resources are? Yes, but that was a while ago, so let's just refresh our memories before we check in on the latest quarterly results. At the end of 2007, Suncor had around 6.5 billion barrels of minable bitumen resources, along with nine billion barrels recoverable via in-situ methods.

Just like last year, there have been some bumps in the road to bitumen Babylon. Unscheduled maintenance activity and an emissions-related production cap both hindered Suncor's output for the quarter. The company got lucky with the rise in crude, and in cash flow terms, price ultimately trumped production. While total upstream production, including natural gas, dipped a bit over 10% compared to last year, cash flow from operations lifted 37%.

Suncor's Firebag project is the one that got capped by regulators for emitting too much sulphur. This is one of the biggest steam-assisted gravity drainage operations in Canada, even bigger than Devon Energy's (NYSE: DVN  ) Jackfish project. The cap was lifted this week, and Firebag will begin to boost production in short order.

Aside from the hiccups, Suncor's production was also lower on account of a major project on one of its two bitumen upgraders. Last year it was the other upgrader that got a makeover. These upgraders, along with a third one that's under construction, are key to Suncor's roadmap to 550,000 barrels of daily production by 2012.

Of course, Suncor's not the only option in the oil sands. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY  ) has made an entrance by hitching onto Total's (NYSE: TOT  ) Joslyn project, and there's Canadian Natural Resources' (NYSE: CNQ  ) massive Horizon asset, which, interestingly enough, once lay undeveloped in the hands of BP (NYSE: BP  ) . Still, Suncor remains my go-to firm in the oil sands fray.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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