Cenovus Energy Inc. has received regulatory approval for a major expansion at the Christina Lake oilsands project south of Fort McMurray, Alta., the Calgary-based company announced Tuesday.

The green light from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board covers three new phases, each capable of producing 40,000 barrels per day. That would bringing total production capacity at the site to 218,000 barrels per day once complete.

"This is a major milestone that allows our expansion plans at Christina Lake to remain on schedule," Cenovus chief executive officer Brian Ferguson said in a statement.


The Cenovus oilsands project at Christina Lake in northern Alberta. ((Cenovus))

Christina Lake, as well as operations at nearby Foster Creek and Narrow's Lake, are part of a 50-50 partnership with Houston based energy giant ConocoPhillips.

The companies expect to give the first new phase the go-ahead by year-end, with production expected to start up in 2014. The second new phase is to begin production in 2016, with the third coming on a year after that.

All Cenovus oilsands developments use steam to liquefy the sticky bitumen deep underground so it can be more easily drawn to the surface.

Cenovus has said it aims to produce 300,000 barrels of bitumen per day by 2019 — five times its current output.