In this new year of economic uncertainty, it can help to take stock of the facts. There are three things we know for certain: First, Albertans owe much of our current prosperity to resource development.
Second, energy production and resource extraction are a fundamental — and often unfairly maligned — segment of Alberta’s economy.
Third, Alberta must prepare to enter a carbon-constrained future, as the world moves away from fossil fuels, with the goal of complete decarbonization by the end of the century.
Albertans’ ingenuity has allowed us to access our abundant natural resources. At a time when the biggest names said it couldn’t be done, Albertans got on with the business of doing it. When naysayers questioned Alberta’s ability to cultivate farms, innovators were making it happen with new irrigation technologies and better seeds.
When others wrote off our rich oil reserves as “unreachable,” we not only reached them, but made them profitable. Through investment, innovation and vision, Alberta has taken its place as an energy superpower, while developing groundbreaking technologies to make our products cleaner and safer.
Today our economy is struggling to find a new balance that takes into account short-term oil prices, medium-term intentions to move away from fossil fuels, and the long-term development needs of Albertans. If Albertan oil is to be accepted in this new global reality, we will need to find a system that encourages the lowest possible emissions with the greatest possible prosperity for our people.
Alberta’s oilsands can be an environmental leader on the global stage through transformative technologies that can meet the industry goal of making oilsands production as clean as conventional oil. Work on this has already begun. For example, Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp. (CCEMC), funded by the province’s carbon levy, has invested in over 85 transformative projects, which have reduced emissions in the province. The CCEMC has also committed $35 million through their grand challenge to a technology that will convert emissions into new carbon-based products.
Industry continues to take a lead in developing and operationalizing these technologies. Last year, Calgary-based Carbon Engineering unveiled a technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and Shell Canada celebrated the opening of their Quest carbon capture and storage project in Alberta, which is expected to capture and store more than one million tonnes of emissions each year.
Alberta has a wealth of talent, which has made our natural resource prosperity possible. Today, many of these highly skilled and experienced individuals are looking for work. We must ensure that we harness these talents and keep them here in Alberta.
One obvious sector that can excel in this transition is the clean technology sector. The economics of clean technology projects are improving, and reports now suggest that in the year ahead, the clean tech sector will be one of the notable growth sectors in Alberta. With many transferable skills and the appropriate retooling efforts, traditional energy sector workers in the province can be vital to the clean tech transition.
With layoffs occurring at many oil and gas companies because of falling prices, alternative energy industries can now competitively recruit from this talent pool. With the experience, labour force, and equipment required to excel at this pursuit, the province is well positioned to lead in the global transition to cleaner energy.
In order to achieve this, we must foster the entrepreneurship and innovation necessary to create the next great Alberta success stories — and do so in a manner consistent with the values and spirit of Albertans. To begin with, a price on carbon is necessary, as it creates incentives for industry to invest in research and development, which can help drive technological innovations that promote more efficient uses of resources.
To further cultivate these technological innovations, governments — both federal and provincial — must play a leadership role, and do so without resorting to massive government spending. By focusing on policies that encourage smart procurement, less red tape, and encouraging commercialization partnerships, governments can restore the Alberta Advantage.
Albertans have never shied away from a challenge and have always had the vision to create the infrastructure and investments needed to foster prosperity for our people. With ingenuity and the right policies, Alberta’s second century as a province can be just as bright as its first.
Kaitlin Szacki is Western Canada director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity.
This item first appeared in the Calgary Herald.