The virtues of the oil sands

Canada’s oil sands The Public Policy Forum recently held a meeting in Calgary to explore resource industries’ productivity, sustainability and competitiveness. According to Elizabeth Cannon, President of the University of Calgary (“Resource sector may lack flash, but it stars as an innovator”), the conference “showcased some impressive examples of on-the-ground innovation.”


“On-the-ground innovation” seems to be a new term to conjure images of the resource industries being seen as drivers of innovation, as much as “nifty new hand-held electronic devices or cutting-edge medical equipment”. In other words, Oil exploration should also come to mind when we talk about innovation.

I, however, find this paragraph perplexing.

“Industry increasingly recognizes that environmental issues relating to their core businesses often present genuine opportunities, as opposed to challenges. For example, research and collaboration between our universities and the energy industry promise to revolutionize the development of Canada’s oil sands reserves.”

Is she or isn’t she admitting that the exploitation of the oil sands leads to major environmental challenges?

What about this one?

“The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development currently ranks Canada 14th among developed countries when it comes to investing in R&D. But the situation is more nuanced. Geological analysis, for instance, is viewed not as R&D, but as an accounting process. And our tax system provides very narrow definitions of what qualifies as research costs.”

Is she asking that the oil industry be eligible for the $4 billion of tax incentives that government currently provides in support of business Research and Development … with the added bonus that our OECD ranking in R&D investment would improve?

I can however vouch –on scientific grounds– for the next one.

“Resource exploration, extraction and production processes are complex. They often involve collaboration among companies and suppliers that leads to unexpected discoveries and applications. Innovation in other sectors is also a source of inspiration. For example, Canadian mining companies have adopted medical imaging technology to their own purposes, achieving higher-resolution images of ore during exploration.”

In any case, it is a far cry from Gwyn Morgan’s rant. But it is somewhat in line with his call to arms:

“Industry leaders need do more than sitting behind the blue line trying to block shots. They need to take their oil sands story and skate hard up the ice.”

Oh Canada!

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