Let’s take up the challenge of carbon capture

By Joseph Maloney

The Sturgeon Refinery in Alberta, which will use carbon produced by refining the oil to help make existing oilfields 50 per cent more productive. Photos courtesy of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

A combination of science, courageous business people, and the incredible skills of the members I am proud to represent has given us the opportunity to significantly reduce our carbon footprint while providing employment security for tens of thousands of Canadians.

The business people are making carbon-capture technology an integral part of a huge new oil refinery that will produce high-quality diesel fuel for export that is 30 per cent cleaner than the much lighter product from Texas.

The coming widespread use of carbon capture represents nothing less than a revolution in the energy industry that will help Canada meet its greenhouse gas targets and make us a world leader in producing clean oil.

The $8.5-billion Sturgeon Refinery in Alberta will use carbon produced by refining the oil to help make existing oilfields 50 per cent more productive. It will do this by pumping the captured carbon dioxide into the shale formations in which oil is found, making it easier to extract. The revenue from the extra oil will pay for the operation of the carbon-capture facility, setting up a virtuous cycle from which all Canadians will benefit.

The Sturgeon Refinery is one of three huge carbon-capture projects, two of which are currently operating in Alberta and Saskatchewan, that have come into being in Canada over the last few years. The Saskatchewan project, the world’s first at such a large scale, had some teething problems, but is now operating as designed. Shell’s Quest facility in northern Alberta is already removing the equivalent of the emissions from 400,000 cars. Sturgeon, when its three phases (worth more than $25 billion) are finally finished, will capture carbon on a scale never before attempted.

The technology is particularly suited to the huge facilities we build, where carbon dioxide production is concentrated. Carbon capture in these situations is efficient, economically viable and makes huge reductions in our carbon output in one fell swoop.

All of this is great news for Canada’s energy industry. So what’s the catch?

The main catch, according to the chair of the North West Redwater Partnership, which is building the Sturgeon Refinery, is that almost no one knows about the incredible potential of the carbon-capture technique.

Canadians are justifiably concerned about our environment and global warming. At the moment, however, popular concern is directed at completely replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Unfortunately, some in the environmental movement promote this unrealistic approach without looking at the realistic alternatives to completely scrapping an industry that is responsible for sustaining as many as 750,000 Canadian jobs.

North West Redwood Chair Ian MacGregor has challenged us in the Boilermakers union to lead the effort to show Canadians the path to both a cleaner environment and a prosperous economy. It’s a challenge we are proud to accept.

As boilermakers, we have the specialized skills and experience to build these facilities. We have a can-do relationship with our industry partners. And we have the confidence in our abilities to know with certainty that we can get this done.

I’m going to turn Mr. MacGregor’s challenge around. I want to challenge industry to join us in our efforts. My members and I believe in Canada’s future. Now let’s get out there and communicate our vision.

Joseph Maloney is international vice-president for Canada of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

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