Telling Our Story: Perceptions, Misconceptions and the Oil Sands

May 09, 2019

“But I believe in the work that’s happening here,” she said. “If the oil sands are going to have a future, what I saw today really lends itself well.” – Mayor Lisa Helps

 Last month, I had the privilege of touring Cenovus’ Foster Creek oil sands project with the Mayor of Victoria, Lisa Helps, my friend Cody Battershill from Canada Action, along with Cenovus’ senior leadership. In this blog post, I recount the objectives of the trip - what we learned and saw, and how we move forward in telling the story of Canada’s energy industry.

Touring the Oil Sands with the Mayor of Victoria

I was very fortunate that Mayor Helps agreed to partake in the trip. Fundamentally, I believe that this is not just a “Calgary” story or an “Alberta” story, it’s a Canadian story – the development of our energy industry affects all Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast. The goal of the trip was to have a factual, positive and productive conversation about the energy industry and to address misconceptions about the development of the oil sands specifically.

Overall, it was a tremendous experience for everyone involved – we saw first-hand a modern oil extraction project, met with industry leaders and stakeholders, and displayed exactly what makes our energy industry the leader in ethical and environmentally sound development and extraction.

Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) – Responsible Oil Sands Development

A highlight of the trip was seeing first-hand the incredible ingenuity of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology at work – an Alberta innovation that has unlocked the oil sands as we know them today. This technology is the perfect example of the resiliency of the industry and the environmental standards it holds.

There exists a perception that the oil sands industry leaves an environmental calamity in its wake. For example, it is often stereotyped that the industry predominately utilizes strip mines – destroying landscapes, contaminating water and creating tailing ponds in the process. In reality, innovative projects like the SAGD plants we saw is where the industry is headed.

During the trip, we were made aware that 97 percent of the oil sands are deposits that are too deep to be mined – SAGD makes extracting oil possible not only more efficiently, but more environmentally friendly. We learned that SAGD currently accounts for more than 50 percent of oil sands production and can be applied to 80 percent of total oil sand reserves. Frankly, this is the future of oil sands development in our province.  Utilizing steam, this technology leaves a smaller footprint, contributes to less deforestation, and uses less energy to produce oil. Moreover, SAGD facilities use non-potable water with recycling rations between 80-97 percent.

We also learned about the considerations companies like Cenovus give to wildlife movements, forest restoration, water reuse, and methane capture. It was very clear to me that the industry is committed to leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible.

It should also be known that Canadian oil sands emissions are well below the global average. Furthermore, many people don’t know that our energy industry spends six times the amount of any other sector in Canada on environmental protection.

Where do we go from here?

It is clear to me that we must continue to have conversations and engagements with politicians across Canada. Ultimately, there exist many negative perceptions about the oil sands. With that said, I believe through fact-based dialogue, we are able to show the truth about our energy industry.  The tour demonstrated that the energy industry values being open and transparent about the development and extraction of oil.

The goal is to achieve factual, evidence-based conversation versus opinion regarding Canada’s energy industry, and in particular with respect to oil sands operations. We must collectively address misconceptions and inaccurate perceptions of the oil sands, and better educate Canadians, especially young Canadians regarding our energy industry.

I am committed to having that conversation. This month, I will be traveling to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting with my Council colleagues where we will meet with City Councillors from across Canada. I assure you that telling the real story of our energy industry will be top of mind for me.

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