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Commentary: Canada in the world's energy future, part 3

Innovating to create a more cost and carbon-competitive oil and natural gas industry.

Jeff Gaulin, Vice-President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

The world needs more Canada.

The world is moving into a lower-price, lower-cost, lower-carbon energy future that needs Canadian innovation. And Canada’s oil and natural gas industry is a leader in innovation. Our oil sands resources are a great example of this. Through innovation and thought leadership, we took what was once a curious geological formation— oil trapped in a sea of sand located in northern Alberta — and turned it into a valuable resource, giving Canada the third-largest oil reserves in the world.

"Imagine that: a carbon-neutral barrel of Canadian oil sands"

We found a way to take the oil out of the sand. It will be that same Canadian resourcefulness that finds a way to take the carbon out of a barrel of oil.

Imagine that: a carbon-neutral barrel of Canadian oil sands.

The technology is there. It’s expensive, but we’re working on it. And given the trend of technology, a carbon-neutral barrel of Canadian oil from the oil sands is not only possible: it is inevitable.

The world’s energy future needs this kind of innovation — and Canada is delivering. The good news is this innovation and environmental leadership is already underway in the oil sands — and could become a long-term competitive advantage for Canada.

GHGs and Canada’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry

Before we talk about where we are going, let’s truly understand where we are.

Canada produces about two per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases every year. Within Canada, the oil sands produce 9.8 per cent of Canada’s total GHGs. That means the oil sands produce 0.16 per cent of the world’s total emissions. In Canada, the oil sands produce fewer GHG emissions than are created via buildings, the agriculture industry or electricity production.

And how do Canada’s oil sands stack up against other oils around the world?

With technology such as Imperial’s new Kearl mine in northern Alberta, the oil sands can produce a barrel of oil with approximately the same emissions as your average barrel of American oil — and be cost competitive.

Climate Leadership

Canada regulates the oil and natural gas industry with some of the strongest environmental rules in the world. Plus, our industry invests heavily into technology and innovation. We work with others so that we can collaboratively lead on climate change.

For instance, Alberta today has a Climate Leadership Plan recognized around the world as tough. Coal is out. The price of carbon is doubling to $30 per tonne. New performance standards will drive continuous improvement, year after year. Plus, there is a hard cap on emissions from the oil sands of 100 megatonnes.

Canada’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to action on climate change, using innovation to break the link between energy growth and emissions. Imagine that — benefitting from our world-class energy for decades, while making less of an impact on the environment.

In fact, innovation and technology could become Canada’s greatest contribution to fighting climate change globally.

Canada’s Oils Sands Innovation Alliance

Four years ago, 13 companies formed Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance — or COSIA. This is a unique partnership that’s committed to achieving better environmental performance in four key areas: water, land, tailings, and greenhouse gases.

To do that, they’ve set aggressive targets. They’re working with some of the world’s top scientists. And they’ve put their money where their mouth is. Already they’ve invested more than $1.3 billion to develop and share more than 900 technologies and innovations. And the work is impressive.

Imagine, for example, making concrete that eats carbon. That’s right, carbon-negative concrete. COSIA and NRG have partnered with the prestigious XPRIZE Foundation to award $20 million toward the development of innovative technologies that convert CO2 into valuable products. Carbicrete of Montréal is one of the semi-finalists, with a technology to make cement-free, carbon-negative concrete.

Today, cement production generates about five per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gases. Imagine an energy future where you can lay the foundation for new buildings without creating new emissions — but can instead absorb it from other sources.

Next, imagine using satellites to monitor greenhouse gases from outer space. In a project called COSIA in Space, Imperial Oil is working with GHGSat, a global emissions monitoring company based in Québec. They launched a satellite named “Claire” into space last summer.

Claire uses sophisticated sensors and associated technologies to measure and monitor GHG emissions in a manner that is potentially more safe, accurate and cost-effective than current methods. This technology could enable oil sands producers to more quickly confirm the effectiveness of new emissions reduction technologies.

Now imagine using algae to convert CO2 into bio-oil strong enough to fly jets overseas. CNRL is working with Pond Technologies of Markham on an algae project: it combines algae with CO2, waste heat, water and light to produce biofuel and biomass products.

The potential for emission reductions from this algae tech is huge. CNRL believes algae bio-refining could cut more than 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from two of its facilities. That’s the same as taking 300,000 cars off the road.

Imagine these technologies applied across Canada. Imagine it around the world.

So you see, the oil sands located in Alberta are helping to drive the development of bio-tech in Ontario and aerospace tech in Québec: technologies we can use to fight global climate change and make cleaner energy.

That makes oil sands innovation Canadian innovation — innovation that matters to the world.

Conclusion: The Future is Now

In this article and my two preceding commentaries, I’ve articulated some of the challenges and opportunities we face as a nation rich with energy resources the world needs. The opportunities are truly significant. And now is the time to compete for that energy future.

We must build the energy infrastructure needed to reach new markets. We must focus our efforts on innovation as key to breaking the link between energy growth and emissions. We need to apply our trademark Canadian resourcefulness — our entrepreneurs and innovators, our engineers and environmental scientists, and our ideas and capital — into creating an energy future that builds prosperity for all Canadians by meeting the growing energy needs of the world.

To do this, we need your voice. Because when you stand up, engage in energy issues and join the conversation, it makes a difference. It helps Canada take a step closer to being the energy for tomorrow.

Jeff Gaulin
Vice-President, Communications
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers


This is part 3 of 3 in a series of commentaries on Canada in the World’s Energy Future. Read Part 1: “Global energy demand and Canada’s export opportunity”, and Part 2:” Changing energy markets and Canada’s competitive challenge.

Also, read more about COSIA in COSIA at the Crossroads: Driving Environmental Innovation.