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Friday, November 12, 2010

Green Issues, Black Clouds

More often than not, Alberta gets criticized about the effect the industry has on the environment. Without a doubt, the oil sands can create some environmental issues. However, rarely does it get thanked for the development it does create. Whether it be within the community, in job development, and by researching ways to decrease their carbon footprint.

What do you think?

By Stephanie Sparks: Alberta Venture Magazine

The environment has always been a complicated issue in Alberta, where residents pride themselves as much on the strength of their industry as they do on the beauty of the natural landscape. It’s been particularly vexing of late, though, as negative publicity about the oil sands, both across the country and around the world, has tarred the entire province with a single dirty brush.

Judging by some of the responses to Alberta Venture’s 2010 Business Conditions Survey, businesses in this province are starting to feel the pinch. For example, when asked if “Alberta’s business interests have been damaged by our global reputation on environmental stewardship,” more than four out of five respondents – 83 per cent, to be precise – agreed. Meanwhile, barely more than half – 58 per cent – agreed that “Alberta’s energy sector is putting sufficient effort into environmental stewardship.”

For Nick Taylor, the president and CEO of Softrock Minerals Ltd., Alberta’s reputation has been years in the making. “Fifty years ago, when I went to university, the whole question was how to rape and pillage Mother Earth,” he recalls. Today, as he witnesses his granddaughter pursue mining engineering, he says her education is about how to leave a green footprint. “It’s a different emphasis and all of us have been a little slow to catch on.”

But slow isn’t how Lucas Mezzano would describe it. Mezzano, the business development manager of the Americas for DYNAenergetics Canada Inc., has seen operations in Latin America, Africa and North America and confidently says that Canada is “light years ahead” of what is being done everywhere else in the world with regards to environmental stewardship. “We should be very proud of where we’re at now,” he says. He doesn’t think much of the environment groups that have targeted Alberta of late, either. “Everybody that complains about the environment and the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry in Alberta or in Western Canada – they just don’t know how it’s done everywhere else in the world.”

Not everyone in Alberta’s business community is satisfied with industry’s stewardship efforts, but for Manasc Isaac Architect’s senior principal Vivian Manasc and partner Shafraaz Kaba, this means opportunities for the energy sector.

“If environmental efforts were seen as opportunities rather than as regulatory constraints to be met with doing the minimum required for compliance,” says Manasc, “there would be an enormous amount that could be done.”

Kaba thinks that opportunity could take centre stage at Expo 2017 if Edmonton is chosen as the host city. “Maybe it’s about being honest and saying, ‘Here’s a problem. Let’s use this forum to talk about a solution,’” suggests Kaba. “The theme is energy – we might as well come up with creative ways to ask for help in determining the course.”

Kaba believes a carbon tax will be imminent if we don’t explore more alternative energy options. “It doesn’t make sense to keep thinking we’re doing as much as we possibly can with carbon capture and storage, whether it’s sequestration or trying to reduce emissions. It’s just swapping where it goes, really. We seriously need to evaluate where our energy is coming from and how that will impact the future, and at some point there will be a carbon tax that will be global in order to address this climate change issue.”

Don Diduck’s company, Environmental Compliance Inc., is focused on originating carbon offsets, but he still sees business interests being harmed by the province’s global reputation even as it tries to develop its own emissions management system.He says environmental interest groups do not fully understand what’s going on in the province. “The resources that would otherwise be going to developing our own solutions now have to go to communicate a message about how well we are doing and are working on environmental stewardship initiatives,” he explains.

Diduck believes that the provincial government has more pressing responsibilities, such as creating a regulatory framework to provide incentives for environmental and clean tech innovations, and should leave it to industry to do their own environmental messaging. Energy companies and associations need to open up and proudly promote the stewardship practices that have decreased pollution levels.

Taylor is confident that industry is starting to do just that. “Shell Oil is always one I’ve had a great deal of respect for,” he says, citing the company’s history of green solutions.

But not all respondents share Taylor’s view that the sector is becoming more proactive. Manasc, for one, believes this is the time for industry to “take the lead rather than wait for regulatory requirements.” ONPA Architects partner Daryl Procinsky agrees. “In the United States, hundreds of companies, hundreds of industries have grown out of the fact that green things happen. Nobody here has really done anything. You haven’t started a green cleaning products company or a green this-or-that. We just don’t. We respond by waiting for the government to respond.”

While our survey’s respondents could not reach a consensus on whether or not the energy sector is doing enough with regards to stewardship, they do want to see the sector lead the conversation. It’s time to start talking.

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