Oilsands execs set to hear from groups

Oilsands executives are heading to three U.S. cities this week to hear what environmental groups, business leaders, academics and others have to say about an industry heavily criticized for its environmental impact.

CALGARY — Oilsands executives are heading to three U.S. cities this week to hear what environmental groups, business leaders, academics and others have to say about an industry heavily criticized for its environmental impact.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has been holding roundtable discussions in several Canadian cities since the summer.

“We’re in a listening mode with a number of our CEOs in a variety of cities across the country, and now (we’re) going into the U.S. to kind of hear their perspectives on oilsands, how we’re addressing the challenges, what needs to be done from their perspective,” says CAPP vice-president Greg Stringham.

Canada is by far the largest crude supplier to the United States, shipping some two million barrels per day south of the border. Many see the oilsands as a safe, reliable source of energy that will help the United States wean itself off of imports from less friendly countries.

But the oilsands industry has come under fire, garnering the label “dirty oil” in some circles. Critics say Alberta crude emits more carbon dioxide than other sources, damages ecosystems in northern Alberta and endangers the health of communities in the region.

Over the summer, a U.S. environmental group launched a controversial ad campaign urging tourists to “rethink” travelling to Alberta.

A number of U.S. legislators have spoken out TransCanada Corp.’s (TSX:TRP) proposed Keystone XL project, a proposed pipeline expansion that will deliver vast amounts of oilsands crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

And a visit to the oilsands by Hollywood heavyweight James Cameron, the Canadian-born director of Titanic, Avatar and other major motion pictures, drew further attention to the issue this fall.

“We need this energy into the future.

“We see renewables coming in as a part of that, but there’s still a big gap in how do we deal with the need for the energy at the same time as the environmental responsibility that’s required?” Stringham said.

The U.S. leg of the CAPP tour begins this week, with visits to New York, Washington and Chicago.

Later this year, the Canada School of Energy and the Environment will publish a paper on what was learned in the talks.

The school is a collaboration between the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

Jennifer Grant, oilsands program director with the environmental think-tank Pembina Institute, said she’d like to see the Canadian and Alberta governments play a bigger role in the oilsands debate.

“We’re lacking in a regional plan right now, and this needs to be a national discussion, not just a discussion amongst select individuals,” said Grant, who will be attending the Washington session.

The oilsands currently produce 1.5 million barrels per day, but new projects have been approved that will add another four million barrels to that, Grant said.

“The government needs to identify what the environmental limits are in a cumulative sense for oilsands development to proceed responsibly. That still has not been done,” she said.

“It’s a question of the pace and scale of the development and that conversation desperately needs to occur.”

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