By Mark Cooper
Both short- and long-term solutions to cleaner and more secure energy supplies are just across the border, senior executives of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance successfully conveyed to U.S. decision-makers, investors, and media at CERAWeek in Houston last week.
Highlighted by a thought-provoking plenary session on reducing emissions in the oil sands featuring Cenovus President & Chief Executive Officer Alex Pourbaix, Suncor President & CEO Mark Little, and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, the message about the oil sands holding the key to long-term North American energy security is beginning to strongly resonate with U.S. audiences.
“I think that pivot was occurring with investors long before what is presently happening with respect to security of supply in Europe, and I think the challenges Western Europe is seeing right now are really just additive to that trend of looking much more positively on Canadian barrels,” Pourbaix told Energy Intelligence in an interview.
Pourbaix and Little were able to convey that while there is some capacity to move more oil into the U.S. in light of sanctions preventing Russian oil imports, the real advantage is long-term as more and more people see the continued efforts Canada’s oil industry is making to reduce emissions and they would rather see supplies from Canada ramped up as the most preferred source of oil in the world.
While Canada already supplies more than half of U.S. oil imports, efforts to increase supply have been stymied in recent years, in large part due to decisions by the U.S. administration to block projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
“If you go back a couple of years, I would say the conversation about Canada’s role with the United States on energy was almost non-existent,” Little said in an interview with the CBC..
“And the engagement with the Canadian marketplace, I would say was very, very low. I think there’s more of a recognition of just how important Canada is.”
Pathways gets high praise from renowned author; Alberta Energy Minister
The plenary session, moderated by CERAWeek founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning energy author Daniel Yergin, followed a well-attended news conference where Pourbaix and Little answered questions from several high-profile U.S. media outlets after a news release from the Pathways Alliance was issued across North America.
“I would just like to say how pleased we are at CERAWeek that you put out a statement today and how significant it is,” said Dr. Yergin at the panel session. “As you pointed out (the oil sands) has such a strong record on ESG and what Pathways represents is really a pathway to a very important future,”.
The Pathways Alliance is a group of Canada’s largest oil sands producers working together to address the critical challenge of climate change. The six member companies operate facilities representing about 95 per cent of Canada’s oil sands production. Pathways is made up of Canadian Natural, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial, MEG Energy, and Suncor Energy.
To help Canada meet its climate goals, the Pathways Alliance has a three-phased plan, with near-term steps, to ensure immediate progress to reduce carbon emissions and achieve a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Its foundational project includes the design and construction of a world-leading carbon capture network in Alberta.
“I think it’s something every single Albertan should be proud of that we’ve got such a tremendous resource in the oil sands and we have companies that want to develop it and take it to net zero,” said Savage.
“When you see initiatives like this, it’s something to be proud of and something we’re happy to work with and make sure we’re providing the right regulatory framework, that we’re providing access to pore space for the sequestration of the carbon, that we’re communicating about it, that we’re getting the messaging right and providing the support that’s needed because this is a game changer.”
Pathways’ executives attract significant media attention
Stories from the news conference were carried by major news wires Reuters and Bloomberg and both Pourbaix and Little conducted interviews with leading international media such as CNBC, the New York Times, and the Financial Times.
Along with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s efforts, the message was effectively carried at home, as well in a Chris Varcoe penned column in the Calgary Herald and a guest column by Deborah Yedlin, President of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce which appeared on the CBC website.
“The Pathways to Net Zero Initiative, involving six oilsands producers and representing 95 per cent of production is the first of its kind in any industry and should be held up as an example of what’s possible when competitors decide collaboration is how this Gordian knot can be untangled,” wrote Yedlin, referring to successfully addressing both emissions and energy security.
Added Pourbaix during the panel session: “You are seeing every single Alberta company is focused like a laser on driving GHG intensities down.”
Pathways’ delegation helps share its story with investors, decision-makers
Little and Pourbaix were not the only ones flying the Pathways Alliance flag at CERA Week.
In total, 18 delegates from Pathways Alliance member companies attended, taking the opportunity to drive awareness and create relationships with media, investors, and policy makers in all levels of government in Canada and the U.S.
“Talking to our investors, what they really want to know is ‘Is this (Pathways) really happening. Because if this is really happening it is transformative for the Canadian industry within the globe’,” said Little at the panel session.
Martha Hall Findlay, Chief Climate Officer at Suncor, and member of the Pathways Alliance steering committee had the opportunity to speak about the goals of the Pathways Alliance during a fireside chat with the Canadian consulate and also spoke to a breakfast plenary session about Canada’s energy future.