Alberta’s energy-and-environment story is more than ‘dirty oil’ - the western Canadian province has pioneered environmental stewardship programs

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Alberta’s energy-and-environment story is a lot more than the chapter on “dirty oil.” The Western Canadian province  certainly faces some significant environmental challenges, especially in continuing to expand development of its vast oil sands deposits. But Alberta also has pioneered environmental stewardship programs, although sometimes the province’s “deliverables” don’t match its good intentions on the environment.

“I don’t know how we got to this point that Alberta is labeled by some as being indifferent to the environment and the producer of dirty oil. Certainly it’s a wrong perception,” says Joe Lukacs, General Conference Chair for A&WMA’s 103rd Annual Conference & Exhibition in Calgary, Alberta.

Lukacs, who emphasizes that he’s stating his personal views, not those of A&WMA, is an engineer who has worked in the pollution-control business for 50 years. “Alberta is actually a leader in many environmental technologies and regulations, as they relate to energy production,” he says.

First, let’s put Canada and Alberta’s energy resources, and the economic benefits from those resources, in a global context. The world now consumes approximately 85 million barrels of oil per day (bbl/d). By 2015, consumption will be 91 million bbl/d and climbing to 107 million bbl/d by 2030, according to the most recent forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Demand for natural gas is expected to grow from 104 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 153 tcf by 2030, EIA says. Fossil fuels will account for 77% of the increase in world energy demand from 2007 to 2030, with oil demand rising to 105 million bbl/d by 2030, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) International Energy Agency says in its World Energy Outlook 2009.

Canada is the world’s seventh-largest crude oil producer and third-largest natural gas producer. And Alberta produces 69% of Canada’s crude oil and 80% of its natural gas. In 2008, the petroleum industry’s net cash expenditures in Canada amounted
to more than $69 billion, including $43.2 billion in Alberta, says the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which represents member companies that produce 90% of Canada’s natural gas and crude oil.

For Albertans, natural gas is the largest single source of nonrenewable resource development revenue, accounting for approximately 63%, or more than $42.6 billion, in provincial royalties from fiscal year 2000/2001 to 2006/2007. Conventional
crude oil production was the third-largest source of this revenue type for Albertans during the 2007/2008 fiscal year.

According to the provincial government’s energy department, Alberta Energy, one out of every six working Albertans—or 170,000 people—is directly or indirectly employed in the energy industry. Oil, gas, and their byproducts account for more than 70% of Alberta’s exports.

With the EIA, OECD, and other organizations forecasting an increase in demand for energy in the United States and worldwide, Alberta’s strategic position as a secure and reliable energy supplier will become more important. But how has Canada’s energy province done in balancing development of its abundant fossil fuel resources with environmental stewardship?

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