Oilsands Giants Press Ahead with $16.5B Carbon Capture Project Amidst Controversy

An oilsands mine in northern Alberta. A proposed carbon capture and storage facility to be built in northeastern Alberta is designed to cut emissions from the oilsands industry. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Major Canadian oilsands companies, united under the Pathways Alliance, are pushing forward with a $16.5 billion carbon capture initiative, according to CBC News. This ambitious project in northeastern Alberta, aimed at tackling the significant emissions from the oilsands, is forging ahead despite mixed reactions from local communities and ongoing debates over the efficacy of such technologies in combating global climate change.

The Scope of the Project

The Pathways Alliance, comprising Canada’s six largest oilsands firms, has about 250 employees engaged in engineering and related work for the project. The oilsands, responsible for approximately 12 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, are pursuing a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. This target is primarily based on capturing emissions and storing them underground.

At an open house in Cold Lake, residents ask questions about where a pipeline and injection wells for a proposed carbon capture project could be built. (Richard Marion/Radio-Canada)

The International Energy Agency’s Warning

Despite new funding commitments from governments, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a cautionary report. Released on the eve of the UN climate summit, COP28, the report warns against overreliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The IEA advises companies to abandon the “illusion” that carbon capture can single-handedly address the global climate crisis.

Alberta Government’s Stance

The Alberta government, undeterred by the IEA report, is expected to announce new financial support for the carbon capture sector, following the federal government’s introduction of tax incentives earlier this month. Premier Danielle Smith’s forthcoming announcement underlines the province’s continued investment in the technology.

The Pathways Project’s Impact and Challenges

The proposed project, capturing CO2 emissions from over 20 oilsands facilities, would transport the gases through a 400-kilometre pipeline to Cold Lake for underground injection. However, the Pathways group has not yet fully committed to proceeding with the project. Jan Gorski from the Pembina Institute highlights the limited scope of carbon capture, which addresses emissions from production but not from oil consumption.

Cold Lake First Nations is voicing concerns about the potential long-term consequences of injecting CO2 underground. The proposed network would run through around 100 kilometres of their traditional territory, officials have said. (Richard Marion/Radio-Canada)

Community Reactions

At a Cold Lake open house, residents inquired about pipeline safety and potential impacts. Mayor Craig Copeland strongly supports the project, anticipating economic benefits similar to the previous oilpatch boom. However, concerns exist about housing, healthcare, and educational resources due to an expected influx of workers.

Indigenous Perspectives

The Cold Lake First Nations express significant reservations, primarily centered around safety and environmental impact, informed by past experiences with pipeline spills and other oilpatch activities. Daniel Mclaughlin, a member of the First Nations, voices deep concerns about the potential risks of pressurized carbon dioxide storage beneath their ancestral lands.

The Path Forward

Despite these concerns, the Pathways group is determined to proceed swiftly, planning to file regulatory applications in the coming months. Kendall Dilling, Pathways president, emphasizes the importance of partnering with Indigenous communities and addressing their safety concerns. With a construction start potentially within 12 months, the project faces a tight timeline to be operational by 2030.