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Alberta’s Energy Industry Needs Clarity on Market Access

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Being a leader means making decisions — and setting a date for the end of the moratorium consultations should be the first one Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes

BY NICK WILSON

The federal government has pledged to put into law a moratorium that bans oil tankers from northern B.C.’s coastal waters. Disturbingly, it won’t rule out extending the ban to LNG carriers, or refined product vessels. Nor will it define the area that the ban will cover. Indeed, it could extend farther south than already proposed, according to a Transport Canada spokesperson, who said nothing would be ruled out while the consultation process is ongoing.

It gets worse. The government will not propose a time frame for completing its review, saying only that the Prime Minister is keen to wrap up the consultation this year. But a year is a long time in the energy markets. A year’s delay can result in canceled projects, and there’s already a backlog of refineries, gas export terminals, pipelines and LNG plants that are all waiting for a green light.

It’s good that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is listening to the concerns of British Columbians who work in fishing and tourism and are worried about the possibility of the oil industry impacting their livelihoods. But being a leader means making decisions, and setting a date for the end of the moratorium consultations should be one of the first he makes. Decisiveness and clarity should also be included in Ottawa’s plan to judge upstream carbon emissions while considering pipeline permits—it also lack details and a defined time frame. Markets, planners and investors need certainty. It would be ironic if B.C.’s proposed refineries, which would be among the world’s greenest, couldn’t take final investment decisions due to a prolonged environmental consultation.

Next year, Canada’s cleanest refinery comes on line—in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland development, northeast of Edmonton. Sturgeon Refinery will process crude from one of the world’s highest-standard regulatory jurisdictions and incorporate the latest carbon capture technology. The CO2 will then travel down the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), a 240-kilometer line running from Central to Southern Alberta. ACTL aims to handle up to 15 million tons of CO2 per day from other plants. Nearby is Shell’s Quest project, which captures carbon from its bitumen upgrader and buries it deep underground.

This brings me to my second point. All energy sources should be treated equally and compete on a level playing field. Eastern refineries don’t capture carbon, their feedstocks from Africa and the Middle East don’t face the carbon tax that Albertan crude does, and protestors don’t picket ports as oil arrives. The energy industry needs consistency as much as it needs certainty. Achieving this will require national leadership and the political will to get provinces and municipalities working together.

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