“Alberta’s engine drives Canada” is the title of an opinion-editorial attributed to Premier Ed Stelmach in today’s Toronto Star. The op-ed suggests that Alberta is in a position to drive Canada’s economic engine and is part of Stelmach’s oilsands rebranding campaign, which includes a visit to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships today in Toronto. I fully agree that Alberta should take this unique opportunity to drive the direction of Canada’s economy, but I disagree with the direction the op-ed suggests.
The op-ed suggests that the $2 billion Government of Alberta investment in carbon capture and sequestration technology is “the best way for Canada to meet its emissions reduction targets.” Untimely for the article is a confidential Ministerial report obtained by CBC which advised that “[l]ittle of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough.”
The lead scientist on this report, David Keith, is a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering with the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary. Keith was also named Environmental Scientist of the Year by Canadian Geographic in 2006. CBC reported that a frustrated Keith believes that because of the low concentration levels, ‘rational people shouldn’t focus on reducing emissions in the oilsands through carbon capture and storage.’
As the oilsands are the fastest-growing source of CO2 in Canada (set to increase from 5% to 16% of total emissions by 2020 under current expansion plans), a shift towards responsible stewardship of the oilsands could not only cut emissions, but also help address both the environmental and public health challenges facing the people who call northern Alberta home.
Canadians and Albertans shouldn’t have to choose between our economy and environment. By centralizing our economy around a non-renewable resource, we are creating an economy that is completely unsustainable in the long-term. Rather than celebrating mediocrity and resting laurels on public relations facades like carbon capture & sequestration, Alberta could be driving Canada’s economy in a sustainable direction, moving towards the development of human capital and a world-class renewable energy sector. Alberta has the financial resources and know-how to be a world leader, but as long as we continue to look to non-renewable resources as our future, we will just be digging our heads in the (oil)sands.
Editor’s Note/Correction: I have removed the section of this post referring to Dr. John Connor‘s situation with Alberta Health & Wellness, due to inaccurate sources. You can read more here. Thank you to the reader who pointed out the inaccuracy of the linked article.