CALGARY (CP) — Regulatory approval for a $1-billion oilsands project led by energy giant ConocoPhillips is the latest move in developing northern Alberta oil reserves, but each recent advance has fallen short of full steam ahead. Houston-based ConocoPhillips said Tuesday that Alberta’s Energy and Utilities Board has given its blessings for the steam-assisted project, called Surmont Oil Sands, about 60 kilometres south of Fort McMurray. But that doesn’t mean the project is a done deal. With regulatory approval, ConocoPhillips, together with partners TotalFinalElf and Devon Energy, will make a go-ahead decision on the project later this year. ‘‘Now that we have the detail of the regulatory approval, we can finalize the evaluation of the commercial potential of the project, with a view to making a decision later this year on whether to proceed,’’ Henry Sykes, president of ConocoPhillips Canada, said in a release. Late last month, oilsands development was handed a blow when Petro-Canada (TSX:PCA) announced it was putting the brakes on $5.8 billion worth of oilsands expansion plans due to spiralling costs in northern Alberta. Numerous other companies are carefully examining costs and political risks before proceeding. Unlike better-known oilsands projects like those of Syncrude Canada, Suncor Energy and a new one led by Shell Canada (TSX:SHC), Surmont will not be an open-pit mine. Instead, it will use a series of large pipes to pump steam deep into the ground to melt and draw up the nearly five billion barrels of bitumen-quality oil on the site. If the partners decide to proceed with Surmont, construction would begin this year, with first oil output of about 25,000 barrels a day expected in 2006. More expansions could increase production to 100,000 barrels a day. The first phase of the project will involve around 50 full-time operational jobs, along with 400 construction and 30 drilling-related jobs. A ConocoPhillips Canada spokesman said Tuesday the company recently completed a peer-review process on the project and now all that remains is approval by senior management. ‘‘I think we were pleased with it,’’ Peter Hunt said from Calgary. ‘‘I think it confirmed that fundamentally our plans were pretty sound.’’ The Surmont approval is just the latest in a roller-coaster of news coming out of the oilsands, which have more energy reserves than Saudi Arabia.