This week, we asked Dr. Marlo Raynolds, Senior Advisor at Pembina Institute to be our guest columnist, responding to some questions. Pembina Institute is a non-governmental environmental organization whose mission is to advance sustainable energy solutions through innovative research, education, consulting and advocacy.
Marlo is a busy man. He’s about to head to Europe, to learn another language and surf, with a young family in tow; we thank him for taking the time to respond to our request.
What's the biggest opportunity for oil sands developers?
The biggest opportunity for oil sands developers is to proactively work with stakeholders to convince Alberta’s new Premier (this Fall) that Alberta needs to set precautionary limits on the total cumulative environmental impacts on water, air-quality and land disturbance. Coupled with a stronger price on carbon dioxide to drive real emissions reductions, environmental limits are needed to unleash the kind of innovation and new technology required to solve oilsands environmental challenges.
We see it again and again how smart performance based standards drive innovation. As an example, the tailings directive helped drive Suncor to find a solution to address the volume of its tailings with TRO technology.
The key is ensuring that total oilsands cumulative environmental impact first stops increasing and then starts to decline; this is the performance metric that we will significantly improve our provincial and the industry’s reputation.
Of course, we will only accomplish this when we send engineers and business-minded people to build and do things differently, not if oilsands companies continue to send lawyers and lobbyists to try to avoid the problems.
What keeps you awake at night?
Besides losing sleep due to having a three year old and an 18-month old, two things keep me up at night: 1) the global challenge of disruptive climate change, and 2) the long-term socio-economic prosperity for Alberta.
On climate change, the more time I spend with some of the leading climate scientists the more urgent my concern becomes. We have set in motion changes to our climate system that within my lifetime are very likely to create major disruptions in food supply, water supply, the resiliency of species, and geopolitics. But it is not the fear of this that keeps me up at night, it is the frustration knowing that we could be, and should be, doing so much more to prevent the worst scenarios of climate change. It is that feeling of having so much debt that your kids are going to have to continue paying it off long after you gone.
With respect to our socio-economic prosperity here in Alberta, I am concerned we are not saving enough of our resource wealth and not investing enough into economic diversity. Although oil and gas is going to be in high demand for at least a couple of decades, there is much change happening in our energy systems, especially in low-carbon transportation technology. It is increasingly plausible that in the lifetime of my kids, oil will not be the predominant currency of energy. Alberta is not preparing for that future.
My kids were born here in Alberta, and like many parents, hope they have an opportunity to prosper here. They will make their own future, but I do feel we have an obligation to pass on a healthy environment and not have frittered away our shared wealth.
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