Energy diversification critical in light of Keystone decision

The keys to Keystone XL have been tossed into the murky depths of the abyss, unless Donald Trump or another Republican president is elected in the United States roughly one year from now.

But Alberta oil isn’t going anywhere. Well, except for the United States, as it always has. Crude will continue to be shipped to the States via rail, which is significantly more carbon-intensive than shipping via pipeline.

President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline under the façade of environmental stewardship. In reality, it was a purely political decision meant to appease his green supporters who impulsively recoil at the thought of more fossil fuels entering their country.

More importantly, Obama’s rejection was a statement about the future viability of fossil fuels. Over and over in his speech, he spoke of the virtues of renewable energies such as solar and wind power and underlined his administration’s commitment to a green economy.

That’s all well and good, but even Obama admits that fossil fuels will not be phased out overnight. Oil, gas and coal will be utilized for decades to come. But change is inevitable and necessary.

It was interesting to hear this same contention from, of all people, Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden at a Shell carbon-capture event I attended last week (see pages 16 and 23).

The event took place at Shell Scotford and was held to announce the official unveiling of Quest, a $1.3 billion project that captures one million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually from Shell’s refinery and buries it underground rather than letting it drift into the atmosphere.

According to Shell, that’s the equivalent of what 250,000 cars release in CO2 annually.

Van Beurden said technology like their carbon-capture project, while perhaps not as visually stimulating as a windmill or solar panel, is the way of the future.

This is particularly true for the oil sands region. Bitumen is expensive to get out of the ground and to refine into crude. It’s also more complicated from an environmental standpoint.

Fort Saskatchewan has done a good job of diversifying its energy sector, largely being able to deflect the wave of massive job cuts that tend to come with a slump in oil prices. The significant downstream sector here with its refining, processing and upgrading of bitumen and crude oil has served as a cushion against the recession.

I’m still learning a lot about Fort Saskatchewan’s industry and energy sector but I do know that technology is something companies need to embrace if they want to remain competitive into the future.  As countries continue to try and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, it is incumbent on us to find new and innovative ways to deal with our resources in a way that is both good for the economy and our planet’s future.

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