In January of 2010 the State of California, one of the world’s ten largest economies and a trend setter for the rest of the United States, passed their new low-carbon fuel standard legislation. The policy prohibits the use or import of high-carbon fuel sources, notably those from Alberta’s oil sands.
On February 3rd, several oil companies and related industries filed suit against the policy, attempting to reverse it through the courts. Roland Hwang of the National Resources Defence Council responded, saying that “The oil industry needs to prepare for the day when they’ll have real competition. California’s low carbon fuel standard gives them a clear road map to the future, but they apparently would rather be looking in their rear-view mirror.”
Alberta strives to be an energy super-power. But are we looking ahead to the future, or trying to hold on to the past?
The low-carbon fuel standard is only the latest attempt by California to move towards the future of energy. In California, hydrogen cars are a reality, the focus is now on providing enough fuelling stations and clean electricity to keep the fleet running. Solar roofs help get residents off coal-generated power.
While Governor Schwarzenegger has publicly stated that he sees green technology as a potential new gold rush for his state, the push to reduce air pollution comes partially out of necessity. Los Angeles is known for having smog so thick the Hollywood sign can’t be seen from downtown. And so they pursue these new, clean technologies despite the fact that due to the current recession the state may or may not have the money.
Motive and opportunity
Alberta, on the other hand, may be running a deficit for the first time since the 90s but rising oil prices and is on the road to recovery. And while Calgary and Edmonton don’t have LA’s level of smog, the less than positive view the world has of Alberta’s environmental track record in recent years provides a motive to make some breakthroughs in green technology. So are we looking to the future or clinging to the past?
The one great hope that the Alberta government is focusing on is carbon capture and storage (CCS). Once implemented, CCS technology would trap carbon emissions (or at least some of them) then store them underground, or in some cases use them to increase production from conventional crude wells thought too empty to pump. CCS is being touted as the key to improving the environmental reputation of the oil sands, as it would allow for significant reductions in carbon emissions.
The rear-view mirror
The problem with this one-track fixation on CCS is that, to appearances, Alberta’s plan to remain an energy superpower is to continue extracting hydrocarbons until one of three things happen: we run out, someone else develops an energy alternative that puts us out of business, or climate change causes ecological Armageddon. While the debate rages over when/if the third option will happen, there’s no getting around the first two. Even if nobody replaces petroleum, we will eventually run out. So while California is trying to find the energy of tomorrow, Alberta is trying to cling to yesterday.
Alberta should be using its revenue from oil and gas to prepare for a world that has moved on from fossil fuels. In fact, Alberta should be helping make that world. When a replacement for oil finally happens, we can stay energy giants, or we can be cast aside. Right now we have the time and the ability to choose between those options, so right now is when we need to choose. Let’s choose tomorrow.
Posted By: Dan Gibbins