Alberta's economy and environment are two sides of the same coin

By Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Three decades ago, a cornerstone of Alberta‘s prosperity was forged in a lab by a small group of talented and persistent engineers.

Through a process of trial and error and many false starts, they discovered a way to extract bitumen from deep under the boreal forest using a technique that Albertans now know as steam-assisted gravity drainage Ð SAGD for short. In the folklore of Alberta‘s energy industry, that first well pad grew into an industry that has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars of investment.

Innovation is something Albertans understand. After all, it was our engineers who figured out how to get the oil out of the sand. Innovation is now more important than ever. As we build a low-carbon economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help our energy industry remain strong and competitive, it will be through our know-how, ground-breaking technology and entrepreneurial spirit that we find solutions.

The good news is that our plan is working: we are lowering emissions and growing our economy. We’re the fastest-growing province in the country this year. At the same time, we’re diversifying our energy economy, creating new opportunities for investment and opening new markets that demand real plans to address climate change. And for that to continue innovation is essential.

Recently, our government made a $1.4-billion commitment to boost innovation in Alberta. This includes almost half a billion dollars to support oilsands producers to lower carbon emissions, as well as money for industrial efficiency, new low-carbon technology, bioenergy and green loans. This significant financial contribution will help accelerate Alberta‘s low-carbon transition.

Last month at the Spark 2017 conference in Edmonton where hundreds of investors and innovators and clean tech entrepreneurs gathered to hear about the exciting work already being done in Alberta‘s clean tech sectors, Premier Notley spoke about how the need to innovate and diversify our economy goes hand-in-hand with sustainable development and protecting ourselves from climate change. More than ever before, the economy and the environment are two sides of the same coin.

That’s the idea behind the 100-megatonne cap on oilsands emissions. By incentivizing our largest oilsands producers to find ways to get the carbon out of the barrel, they’re also lowering costs and boosting their competitiveness in a world that is increasingly demanding responsibly-produced, lower-carbon energy. This is something well understood here in Alberta.

The environment and the economy is a two-for-one deal. That’s why our government is giving Albertans the support and tools they need to make this transition a reality. Under the Climate Leadership Plan, revenue from the carbon levy also supports initiatives like Emissions Reduction Alberta‘s $50-million Oil Sands Innovation Challenge so that our energy industry can deploy commercially-viable technology to reduce environmental footprint of the oilsands.

Emissions Reduction Alberta and Alberta Innovates are funding work by some of our best thinkers, engineers and researchers that lower the carbon intensity and boost efficiency. In fact, Emissions Reduction Alberta expects the 122 projects that have been funded since 2010 to yield 27 megatonnes of GHG reductions by 2030. That’s equivalent to more than half the annual emissions from Alberta‘s coal-fired power plants.

These are projects like Encana’s efforts to lower methane emissions by installing technology that captures the potent greenhouse gas and uses it to fuel natural gas compressor stations or a new technology from Calgary-based Seal Well to seal up oil wells, reducing methane emissions that occur as a result of gas escaping from deteriorating concrete. There are many other initiatives including heavy oil upgrading technologies that will dramatically improve efficiency as well as cut the output of climate-damaging gases.

Investing the carbon levy is critical in helping new technologies become commercially viable. And when they are deployed, we’ll see emissions reductions and job creation as well as a more competitive industry that can supply the world with low-carbon crude.

Imagine the potential we have by tapping innovation.

Imagine if our energy industry offered the most cost- and carbon-competitive oil and gas in the world, meeting growing demand in Asia for cleaner fuels like liquefied natural gas to replace coal.

Imagine if we could use all of our natural resources like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass to power our economy.

This is our challenge and our opportunity. And because of Albertans’ can-do attitude and talented workforce, I’m optimistic that Alberta‘s best days lie ahead.

First published Dec. 16, 2017, in the Lethbridge Herald