Petroleum industry seeks new ways to improve environmental performance

RED DEER, Alta. — Energy companies install 13,000 kilometers of pipelines in Alberta every year, affecting 40,000 acres of land.

Farmland is taken out of production, forests are removed and wetlands and water courses are disturbed during construction of trenches and pipelines. Ongoing complaints to resource companies about loss of productivity and harm to the environment are common.

“As a company, we knew we had problems,” Brennon Panchyshyn of Quicksilver Resources Canada told Alberta Synergy, a joint conference held in Red Deer for the last six years to improve communication between landowners and resource companies.

“We had a ton of landowner complaints about winter pipeline construction. It was always a battle to work in the frozen soils and muddy conditions before spring seeding.”

Panchyshyn, who has a back-ground in environmental science, heard about a new Alberta govern-m e nt program researching low impact pipelines and improved environmental approaches for building roads and crossing water courses.

He said in an interview that the program takes an open mind about new methods rather than installing traditional pipelines.

It has improved the company’s dealings with the public, he added.

“It went from being a couple thousand landowner complaints in the spring to hearing next to nothing,” he said.

Doug Kulba of Alberta Environment said the Partners in Resource Excellence program has changed the government’s role from enforcement to collaboration for improved energy industry standards.

“Our legislative requirements were never designed to help the industry be prosperous,” he said.

Governments have historically not worked to solve problems. Instead, it looked to see who was in non-compliance and acted like the police when pursuing offenders. Companies were expected to meet minimum standards that were never adequate.

Government departments worked with energy companies to set up the Evergreen Centre for resource excellence and innovation, a 14 acre site in northern Alberta to demonstrate new road building techniques, better ways to cross water courses and install pipelines. It can train staff and find improved methods that go beyond minimum standards.

Working together, they developed new techniques to install pipelines with less impact. Specialized plows, ditchers and compaction equipment were invented to minimize the amount of land disturbance. Topsoil is salvaged and the new system uses precise depth control.

Rights of way requirements have fallen to 10 metres from 15.

Finding new ways to assuage public concerns as well as improve extraction and environmental per formance are critical, said Dave Colyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

He said the industry has not performed well in its talks with landowners, aboriginal groups and the public at large, who tend to distrust resource companies.

He said there has to be broader public engagement in pipeline discussions, impacts on soil and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and the role of the oil and gas industry in society and the economy.

“It can’t be the industry telling people what it believes is right,” Colyer said. “It has got to be a dialogue and we have to find ways to find common ground.”

Public attitudes are changing as more landowners focus on property rights, especially in Alberta. Some people argue “not in my backyard,” while others ask who should pay for local impacts on communities and the infrastructure.

“How do we reconcile local interests with broader public interest?” he said.

“There is no easy answer to that, but we do need energy development and economic development and there will be people impacted by that who live or work near industrial activity.”

Colyer said energy literacy has a large role to play. Instead of the industry telling the public what they should believe or do, it should be about making sure people have fact-based information to make decisions.

“The level of energy literacy in Canada, even in Alberta, is relatively low.”

ENERGY INDUSTRY FACTS

Total Canadian oil production is expected to grow from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2010 to 4.7 million in 2025.

Canada has proven oil reserves of more than 175 billion barrels, which are the third largest in the world. Although most of Canada’s crude oil production comes from Western Canada, 11 percent is produced in Atlantic Canada.

The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, which underlies most of Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, is the main source of oil for the West.

Canada is the world’s sixth largest oil producing country. Future growth in oil production is expected to be primarily from the oil sands.

Canada is the world’s third largest producer of natural gas with average annual production of 6.4 trillion cubic feet.

Source: Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers

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