Canadian Manufacturing

Oil sands developers want some eco-respect

April 21, 2009  by Joe Terrett, Editor

Furthermore, citizens on both sides of the Canada/US border have a dim view of the tar sands and the “dirty oil” produced there. Of course, 500 ducks dieing in a Syncrude tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alta. last April has not helped the optics.

Clearly, the oil sands industry has to clean up its image, and that’s what Don Thompson, chair of the Oil Sands Developers Group (, wanted to talk about at the National Buyer Seller Forum in Edmonton Feb. 10 to 12.

The annual conference hosted by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME)—Alberta and the Alberta government, brings together oil sands developers and prospective suppliers to talk about the sector and available business opportunities. Thompson had the ears of 600 delegates from across Canada and his message was simple: Canadian’s perceptions of the oil sands aren’t that good, but the negative perceptions are based on bad information. Oil sands companies have been working hard to address environmental issues and they have to do a better job of getting the word out.

Indeed, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers conducted a survey of 425 people in Edmonton and Toronto in June ( and 46% of the respondents do not think the oil sands companies have done a good job of balancing the environment and the economy. Thompson added 62% of Albertans are in favour of government limiting greenhouse gas emissions, even if development projects are delayed or cancelled.


It’s especially important to get the facts straight because the pressure is on in the US (where Canada ships almost 2-million barrels of crude per day, to restrict trade in dirty oil.

“The world remains hungry for a stable, reliable energy supply. For the oil sands to develop we need a responsible regulatory environment in which to operate,” said Thompson, who rolled out some facts:

  • The oil sands presently account for less than 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and less than 0.1% of the world’s emissions. Industry emissions are down by 2.6 million tons since 1990.
  • In terms of air quality, the oil sands is the most intensively monitored region in North America.
  • In 40 years of oil sands mining, only 500 square kilometres of Canada’s boreal forest has been disturbed. Since 2001, government and industry have reduced the disturbance by 20 per cent.
  • Alberta regulates water use. The oil sands draw less than half of its allowed allocation from the Athabasca River. Only 15% of the flow can be drawn during low-flow conditions and more than 80% of the water gets recycled.
  • During and after mining, tailings ponds are reclaimed, the first of which begins in 2010.
  • 80% of the oil sands will be developed using in-situ technology, which does not require tailings ponds.

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