Bitumen isn’t the only thing which oil sands developers produce these days. Oil sands companies also seem to generate strong emotions in Canada’s polarized energy discussion.
That’s not surprising, given the passion of participants, and how participants in the discussion (oil sands companies included) are either cast as heroes or villains in some narratives.
In spirit of providing perspective in the conversation, we take on the top 5 myths of oil sands companies.
1. Oil sands companies don’t care about the environment
It’s often a tenet of faith of oil sands critics that producers are faceless corporations bent on resource extraction at Mother Nature’s expense. There’s no question oil sands development impacts the environment. While mitigating the various impacts is standard business practice for oil sands companies, there’s recognition that the operators can do better by working together. Hence, the formation of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance to accelerate environmental performance in the focus areas of tailings, water, land and greenhouse gas emissions.
Companies are also improving environmental performance on their own. Through the establishment of environmental performance goals in 2009 at Suncor, for example, the company has focused on improving energy efficiency, achieving absolute reductions in freshwater consumption and air emissions and increasing land reclaimed by 2015. In another example, Shell is investing in the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage Project to reduce CO2 emissions from its oil sands operations by more than one million tonnes a year by capturing CO2 from its Scotford upgrader and permanently storing it deep underground.
2. Oil sands’ company economic activity doesn’t have a significant impact on Canada’s economy
While oil sands activity as a share of gross domestic product may not necessarily be top of mind for the average Canadian, the impacts of oil sands development are significant. For example, according to analysts at IHS, oil sands activity currently supports 478,000 jobs, and will support more than 753,000 by 2025.
The infrastructure necessary to support oil sands production also puts billions into the Canadian economy – everything from the taxes paid by the oil sands companies themselves to their spending on contractors and supplies. In 2012 alone, the provincial and federal governments received $28 billion in taxes and royalties.
3. The presence of oil sands companies is bad for communities
With any sudden influx of new workers and industrial equipment, it’s natural to be concerned about an operation’s impact on the community. And in fact, rapid growth has indeed inflicted past pain on communities in the oil sands region. In recent years, however, oil sands companies have sought to help improve these same communities. In 2011 and 2012, for example, industry contributed more than $20 million to Aboriginal communities in the Wood Buffalo and Lac La Biche regions for school and youth programs, celebrations, cultural events, literacy projects and other programs, according to the Oil Sands Developers Group (whose work is now part of the Oil Sands Community Alliance).
One way Suncor is contributing to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is through the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB) initiative. A five-year partnership between stakeholders in the region, the Suncor Energy Foundation, the Fort McMurray United Way and the University of Waterloo, SPWB aims to improve the quality of life in Wood Buffalo by strengthening its non-profit sector. This community-driven process is driving charge through collaboration and collective impact.
4. Oil sands companies determine public policy
Oil sands companies do lobby governments on issues of public policy. After all, lobbying in Canada is an important part of the public policy process and governments encourage industry and other groups to engage in two-way conversations about a range of topics. Critics of energy development, such as environmental groups, also lobby to ensure their voices are heard.
Governments go to great lengths to make lobbying transparent. For governments, lobbying is valued as an essential way to collect the wide-ranging views of its citizens on matters such as energy development. Lobbying generates a rich dialogue, allowing for government to truly consider a full range of perspectives when making decisions in the public interest. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is also engaged in public policy activity. When it comes to issues management or policy development, CAPP advocates on behalf of the industry.
5. Oil sands companies are “all in” on fossil fuels.
While hydrocarbon products like bitumen will continue to be part of Canada’s energy mix for the foreseeable future, oil sands companies recognize we all need more than one resource in the mix to meet energy demands. That’s why oil sands players like Suncor and Shell have diversified their energy positions, investing in renewable energy sources such as wind power.