The Alberta government has gone to great lengths to promote the oilsands and its environmental advancements over the years.
Make no mistake, leaps forward have been made, and the process of developing our province's greatest non-renewable resource has become much more efficient and much more environmentally friendly. Aside from oilsands developments, moves to reduce flaring and increase scrutiny on oil and gas companies to reclaim land to its pre-development state have all made a difference in Alberta.
But one of the linchpins to this plan has been the province's $2-billion carbon-capture scheme. The original plan to spend that cash on four projects was met with skepticism from the start, as the technology was criticized as being expensive and unproven. The government, for its part, touted the benefits and promoted carbon capture as the best way to reduce pollution while continuing to produce enough fossil fuels to meet a growing demand.
Alberta's underground rock foundations were thought to be perfect for trapping liquid carbon dioxide, while the safety of the entire venture was questioned by those on the other side of the fence.
Today, however, two carbon-capture projects have been deleted from the agenda, as it was announced earlier this week a $285-million deal was being shelved Monday; Swan Hills Synfuels and the province announced an agreement to convert underground coal to gas, and then burned to create electricity will not go ahead.
This comes after TransAlta backed out of a deal worth $1.4 billion last spring, as the costs of injecting carbon dioxide into old oil wells to enhance production was quashed.
Two projects remain, and include a $600-million plan through Enhance Energy to transport carbon dioxide from refineries in Redwater to oilfields near Clive, while the other is a project with Royal Dutch Shell. That plan would see the capture of carbon dioxide from an oilsands upgrader northeast of Edmonton, which would be injected into rock formations about 80 kilometres away.
As Alberta's image as a producer of "dirty" oil is still fresh on the minds of many Americans, our province's leaders have gone to great lengths to change that, and carbon-capture initiatives were part of discussions as Alison Redford met over the weekend with state governors in Washington.
These types of pollution-reduction plans are important, but need solid scientific proof behind them, and assurances they will be economically feasible. With that in mind, a more well-thought-out, long-term plan is required for Alberta, a province which has great potential to remain an economic force well into the future, despite our most recent budget woes.
With our oilsands, the Bakken oil play in southern Alberta which has yet to reach its full potential, and evolving fracking technology, this province will continue to provide reliable energy to North America and the world.
How we manage these environmental risks, however, will go a long way towards how our oil and gas economy is viewed in the markets we serve. Alberta still has strides to make to shed its reputation, as it is up for debate how deserved that reputation actually is.
But as Canada in general struggles to meet even the most modest goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Alberta is in a similar position, with emissions expected to rise until 2020. Carbon capture was once viewed as an option to help reverse that trend but at this point, it seems like the province will have to go back to the drawing board.
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