Sunday, December 6, 2009

What can Alberta do about the tar sands?

Nothing is black and white.

Anyone who has paid attention has noticed that there are environmental groups that want to "shut down" the tar sands.

I don't think that is a reasonable solution and I don't think it is going to happen.

I've also noticed a few other things.

i.e. Alberta raised royalty rates in '07 and the oil cos. squawked but they still have a sweetheart deal and investment continues to roll in, despite a shaky market. Start-ups in the tar sands get a 1% royalty for a bunch of years... something like that. I haven't studied it in depth.

And, over the past couple of years the oil companies have made extraordinary profits.

So, all signs indicate that the oil companies have wiggle room. Heck, they have wiggle room for all the dinosaurs in Drumheller...

On the other side, it seems that Alberta's resource royalties have dropped from around $12+ B to $6+ B in the last year. But has Alberta had to put in a sales tax to make ends meet? Nope. In fact the popular new Wildrose Party is pushing for bigger concessions to the oil companies.

So, yeah, it looks like Alberta also has some wiggle room.

I suggest that Alberta and the oil companies get serious and figure out some ways to put the planet ahead of profits - but still keep profits intact.

As I understand, the problems with the tar sands are several - but the main one is that it takes 3 or 4 times the energy to produce the oil than a conventional oil source. So..

1. They need to have sustainable energy phasing in at all plants.

No one can claim it doesn't make economic sense. Every cubic foot of natural gas that isn't consumed today (in such a ridiculous, when you think about it, process as producing oil) is preserved for the future when it will be much more valuable. And that aside - if it is viable for Quebec to put up wind farms, when Quebec is already self-sufficient in electricity, then obviously it must be viable for Alberta.

2. They could set up one tar sands plant as a showcase to prove the viability and feasibility of a clean project. They could plan it from A to Z as a model eco community - once the lead was taken the other projects would be forced to follow suit. Parks, reforestation, fishing... They could put in rapid transit systems for the employees, gardens, geothermal heating for the houses, whatever it takes. The oil companies could never buy better PR than that. I admit it's cheaper to pay off junk scientists - but that is not going to work for long. People are just not that stupid.

When they see oil execs taking their kids to swim in tailing ponds - then people will believe that the water is safe. -not before

3. They need to come up with innovative ways of cleaning the water they use and recycling the heat out of it. And they're probably doing this already - they just need to do it 5 or 10 or 100 times as well.

4. Look at other ways of converting excess co2 or disposing of it in addition to the deep burying that they're already working on. (I find it weird that putting our atmosphere under ground could possibly be sustainable?!)

5. Try to come up with some dang thing that would be unique in Alberta that is environment-friendly. They are going to need this for cap and trade and PR reasons, as well as for the good of the planet. I dunno what to suggest - a made-in-Alberta high-speed rapid transit system between Edmonton and Calgary or right up to Ft. McMurray? Maybe an innovative way to harvest methane gas from cattle? Perhaps establish a university or technical school focused entirely on the environment? Things of this nature will be economic catalysts, they'll enable Alberta to set and meet useful emission reduction targets and improve public relations which are currently at an all-time low and about to start costing all Canadians.

If Albertans are worried that the tar sands will become another fur seal debacle - Yes. Start worrying. Tar Sands will be Fur Seals X 1000000s in terms of consequences. And the difference is the tar sands problem is legitimate.

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