Imperial Oil is seeking approval for a new $2 billion oilsands project on its Cold Lake lease area in northeastern Alberta.

The company says it has filed the regulatory paperwork with Alberta Energy Regulator for the Cold Lake Expansion project, but Imperial spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt said development is not guaranteed.

"This is a preliminary and very important step in the regulatory process," Schmidt said Friday.

"Overall, we take a long-term approach to resource development, and an ultimate investment decision will be based on a variety of factors including regulatory approvals, market conditions and economic competitiveness," she said.

Imperial, majority owned by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, is taking the next step in the process as other oilsands developers delay or even shelve expansion projects in the face of low oil prices.

The steam-assisted gravity drainage project would tap into the Grand Rapids formation, which Imperial says has roughly 550 million barrels of potential resources.

New technology

It would use solvent to ease the flow of the thick bitumen, a process that the company says will reduce green house gas emissions and water use per barrel by around 25 per cent compared with conventional steam-assisted extraction.

Imperial says the technology has been used in pilot projects at its current Cold Lake operation since 2010.

Construction could start as early as 2019 assuming Imperial gets timely regulatory approvals.

If developed, the new oilsands project would produce about 50,000 barrels per day of bitumen starting in about 2022.

Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland welcomed the news that Imperial was taking the next step in the process.

"For us, it's very exciting news for our community. We desperately need good news right now, so I'm really happy to hear that Imperial Oil's going to move forward," Copeland said.

Imperial says the Cold Lake expansion is one of several oilsands opportunities it's considering.