Insight & Analysis

Canadian Oil Sands Energy: Time for Bold Action

5 February, 2016

Athabasca oil sands

By Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn

Wayne Dunn is an award-winning global CSR expert with extensive teaching, writing, lecturing and Advisory Service experience. He is supported by an extensive faculty and advisory team.

It is time to stop tinkering at the margins and let’s set bold goals to get Canadian Oil Sands energy to market AND make it palatable in our increasingly carbon and climate focused world.

Canadian Oil Sands are one of the world's largest petroleum reserves, and the only major reserve located in a politically stable region. A major investment in improving the carbon/climate impact would pay dividends to Alberta, Canada and the world for decades.

We’ve seen that no matter how loud governments cheer for the project, or how friendly they make environmental rules, the pipelines just don’t seem to get approved. Climate change and carbon are increasingly important to society. Dirty energy, as the oil sands have been branded, can expect increasing opposition and challenges at every step, from inside Canada and globally.

This won’t change anytime soon. Unless the oil sands industry embraces carbon and climate issues and takes them head on. And, with the economic malaise Canada and Alberta is in, and provincial and federal governments poised to make strategic interventions, this is a perfect time.

It is time for industry and both levels of government to come together and accept and finance the challenge of making oil sands energy acceptable to a carbon conscious public.

A good starting point is to determine the carbon, GHG and climate impact intensity of the industry today. There seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation around this issue so let’s clear it up. Whatever the number is, let’s know it and let’s accept that it has to improve. A lot. A real, real lot.

How can it be improved? I don’t know, but I know it can’t be improved and won’t be improved unless industry and government come together, commit to improving it and invest heavily to achieve that commitment.

What would happen if they agreed to cut the carbon, GHG and climate impact intensity of oil sands industry by 50% in 5 years? It would be a huge step forward in gaining (or regaining) a global social license for the industry.

Canadian scientists, engineers, universities and research facilities would be resourced and motivated to develop new technology and processes that would not only apply to the oil sands but would have impact across other industries and sectors struggling to reduce their impact.

New technology and solutions would be developed by Canadians and could be applied in other industries and other sectors, supporting Canadian business and carbon management. Canada would continue moving away from its former status as a climate change laggard.

What would it cost to cut impacts by 50%? I don’t know. Billions I guess. But, what is the alternative. The public and markets won’t get less interested in the environmental impact. Pipeline permits won’t magically appear.

I suspect that if Industry and government doesn’t take this issue head on with a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that they all embrace, we will see much of the energy from oil sands remain untouched, costing the provincial and national economy far more than it would cost to take the challenge head on.

So, let’s just do it. Embrace a 50% reduction in the climate impact of the oil sands industry by 2022.

Comparative oil reserves
Canadian Oil Sands are one of the world's largest petroleum reserves, and the only major reserve located in a politically stable region. A major investment in improving the carbon/climate impact would pay dividends to Alberta, Canada and the world for decades.

Tags: Extractives Climate change & energy

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