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Dr. Dan Wicklum: Environmental Innovation in Canada’s Oil Sands

Science and innovation have played a key role in the development of Canada’s oil sands resources from the very beginning. The first scientific assessment of the oil sands was conducted in 1848, more than 150 years ago. Since then, the spirit of innovation and the application of science and technology have allowed Canada to become a world leader in the responsible production of unconventional resources like the oil sands.

 

We as Canadians value the benefits we see from oil sands, but we also place great importance on the environment. Producers accept that operating in Canada requires high standards of environmental care and responsibility. They are committed to meeting those standards and continuously improving environmental performance through the development of innovative technologies.

Canada’s oil sands producers have always been leaders in innovation. Their success in developing the technologies necessary to extract bitumen from oil sands in ways that are economically viable is testament to that. With every new project, producers have individually found ways to increase the economy and environmental sustainability of their operations. Now, through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), they are working together.

COSIA was formed by 13 of Canada’s oil sands producers, representing about 90 percent of Canada’s oil sands production. It was formed on the belief in the value of continuous innovation and collaboration to reduce risk and cost, while accelerating the improvement of environmental performance.

Through the development of globally precedent-setting legal agreements, COSIA’s member companies — competitors in every other area — now collaborate at new levels. We can pool our knowledge and expertise to research, develop and implement innovative technologies to improve environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands faster than they could on their own.

We are working to solve some of the greatest environmental challenges facing not only the oil sands industry, but the world. In many cases, the solutions we find for our industry will be transferable to other sectors. For example, as populations continue to grow, so too will the need for fresh sources of water. We will need to find low carbon-intensive methods of desalinating brackish and seawater. COSIA companies are currently looking to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by increasing the energy efficiency of treating water for use in the bitumen extraction process. It is our hope that the solutions we find will improve water treatment technologies worldwide.

For that reason, COSIA has sought out innovative organizations from other sectors to collaborate with on solving these challenges. Through COSIA’s Associate Membership (AM), we can utilize the brightest minds around the world to help find solutions to the environmental issues facing the oil sands industry.

Through COSIA’s AM program, GE has contributed about $18 million for projects that will enable the development of new technologies to reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada’s oil sands. Associate members are able to collaborate directly with COSIA’s member companies, allowing the best and brightest minds from GE, Suncor Energy, Devon Canada, ConocoPhillips and several other member companies to share ideas and develop a new generation of environmental technologies.

To date, COSIA’s members have shared more than 560 existing technologies that cost more than $900 million to develop. In addition to those contributed technologies, COSIA has about 190 active projects that cost more than $500 million dollars.

COSIA is new — as both an organization and a concept. Yet while we’re just two years old, our members are beginning to see results. We will continue to work together to develop new, innovative ways of improving the environmental performance of our industry and finding solutions to the complex environmental issues that face this planet.

Dr. Dan Wicklum has been the Chief Executive of COSIA since March 2012. Prior to joining COSIA, Dan held various senior positions for Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada. He is a board member of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporations. Dan’s first career was as a linebacker in the CFL.

 

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