In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Dead Ducks an Environmental Wake-up Call

Posted 5/12/2008 by Grant Mitchell


The specter of 500 ducks dying in the oil sands tailings pond was startling to Albertans and Canadians. It underlined the growing concern that so many have with the environmental impacts of oil sands development. The tailings ponds, carbon emissions and water use by the oil sands projects rank as three of the foremost environmental issues facing Canada today. To be sure, they are not the only ones and it is important for us to be sure that the debate about handling carbon emissions does not focus solely on the oil sands. In fact, right now oils sands development accounts for about 5% of the total emissions of carbon dioxide in Canada. So, there are many other significant sources. However, the oil sands have become a focus of attention and the duck deaths does not help the image.


You have to wonder when oil sands companies might just decide to bite the bullet and get this CO2 “monkey off their backs”. Credible estimates place the cost of capturing all the carbon emitted in the production of oil sands oil at about $2.50 per barrel. Meeting a Kyoto related target would be about ½ that cost. At $125 per barrel, we must be getting close to a point where this can be done relatively painlessly. And these estimates have been determined of course before any actual effort has been made. Interestingly, history is replete with examples how actual costs for solving environmental problems end up being much, much less than originally estimated, once the decision is made to solve the problem and companies are driven to find the least expensive ways to do that. Interesting also is that all the technology needed to solve this problem probably exists in the world today.  


What is needed is a catalyst to cause these and the other large emitters in Canada to take the steps necessary to reduce their carbon output to target levels established within international protocols. While the current Conservative government fights every step of the way to avoid taking leadership in this effort, they must step in and do that. This is exactly the kind of challenge, one of historic proportions, that real leadership would be inspired to provide. What are they waiting for?

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