Eighth Edition, Our Petroleum Challenge

February 26, 2013

In March, we’ll be launching the eighth edition of Our Petroleum Challenge, the Centre for Energy’s flagship publication.

This latest edition includes comprehensive updates to a range of industry facts and figures, along with brand new content and a completely redesigned look that makes the book even simpler to read. Reviewed by professionals in all areas of the oil and gas industry along with related government regulators, the eighth edition of Our Petroleum Challenge is current, comprehensive and, most importantly, readable.

As a primer textbook on the oil and gas industry, Our Petroleum Challenge is ideal for anyone who wants to learn about the complex chain of companies, technologies and processes that transform Canada’s oil and gas resources into the energy products that fuel our lives.

We recognize that the oil and gas industry is a technical and often literally distant industry that can seem inaccessible even while issues like oil sands development and hydraulic fracturing make daily news. That’s why we believe accessible energy knowledge is essential for all Canadians, from business people working alongside the oil and gas industry to teachers engaged in lifelong learning to students planning a career in energy.

It’s the only book you really need.

Priority 7: Caring About Air, Land and Water

August 1, 2012

Seventh in a series on the ‘Now or Never” report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV).

Priority 7 is all about pursuing a high level of environmental performance for non-renewable energy sources, in particular oil sands and coal. This is quite a complex topic, and I don’t think it would be possible for me to address all the issues surrounding it. So I am going to stick to what is in the ENEV report.

The oil sands are an enormous economic force in Canada. As I mentioned in the last post, there is a lot of research and development surrounding this resource, and new technologies are constantly adapting and improving. This R&D is often directly connected to improving environmental performance because as the oil sands continue to develop, so do the environmental challenges.

Canada also has to contend with the environmental impact of burning coal. Coal is second to oil as a global energy source, and has its own unique environmental performance challenges.

One solution to these challenges has been Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). If you’ve been doing your homework you will know I talked about CCS in the previous post, and you can look there for more information.

So the lesson for today will be on the oil sands.  Once again, my recommendation is to read, listen and learn all you can on the topic. There is a global discussion going on out there – the oil sands is in the news pretty regularly. The oil sands and the environment represent a complex topic. There are many aspects of the subjects to cover. So if you are just getting started, keep it simple and learn the basics. Here are some industry association and government resources on the oil sands and the key environmental challenges related to air, water and the land.

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – Oil Sands Today

Canadian Energy Research Institute – Publications

Natural Resources Canada - Oil Sands

Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance – Project case studies

Alberta Government - Oil Sands

Canadian Oil Sands Education Program

May 10, 2012

Teachers, you all know there is nothing better than first hand experience to accelerate learning, so here is a summer PD program that more than fits the bill.

Inside Education is hosting the Canadian Oil Sands Education Program this summer. They are inviting 20 teachers from Alberta and 20 teachers from across Canada to apply for the program. All you have to do is articulate your reasons for wishing to attend on your online application. And if your application is accepted, Inside Education will provide you with a full scholarship to attend the program.

Your food, program travel, accommodations and all facility tours and workshops are all included in the scholarship. In addition Inside Education will cover the costs of flights for participants from outside Alberta.

Early bird application date is May 31. Deadline for all applications in June 7.

So it’s up to you. What an amazing opportunity.

These Noses Helps Scientist Know

April 3, 2012

In about 10 weeks, 4 dogs can sniff out and locate 1,500 scat samples of caribou, wolf and moose. That’s a lot of scat.

It might be a game for the dogs, but it’s serious research for Statoil Canada. The company recently received the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s Environment Performance Award for the development of the Scat Dog Program. This unique monitoring program has been in place for the last three winters in the oil sands region of northern Alberta.

The scat samples are examined by scientists to help determine what moose, wolf and caribou in the area are eating and where they are travelling. The scientists are also trying to assess how healthy each population is through DNA-based measures of population abundance and hormone-based measures of psychological, reproductive and nutritional health. Ultimately, the scientists hope to share their research results and suggest better ways to help manage the impact of resource development on wildlife.

How Deep?

March 11, 2011

How deep is an oil well?

The easy answer is deep enough to get to the oil.

The average conventional oil well drilled in Western Canada in 2010 was 1,611 metres.

That’s about three CN Towers stacked on top of each other.

The deepest well ever drilled in Western Canada was about 5,700 metres or 10.3 CN Towers stacked on top of each other.

Shallow conventional wells are in the neighbourhood of 900 to 1,000 metres.

In-situ oil sands drilling is much shallower.

Injection and production wells go as deep as 450 to 500 metres.

Water wells for drinking water are much shallower.

In general, groundwater shallower that 150 metres is potable.

Anything deeper has the potential of being brackish or saline.

So, oil wells, regardless of whether they are drilled for conventional oil or bitumen, are much deeper than water wells, and are cased well beyond 150 metres.

Trying To See Through An Oil Spill

May 11, 2010

Image: New York Times

In the aftermath of the explosion that destroyed BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig on April 30, oil hasn’t been the only thing leaking out — the disaster continues to draw headlines every day in major newspapers around the world.

In Canada, feedback has ranged from calls to restrict further offshore drilling, which have so far been rebuffed, to attempts to capitalize on the environmental fallout by calling attention to Alberta’s oil sands and the relative benefits in light of open sea leaks. Any organization with a stake in petroleum can be expected to make their point on an issue as large as the spill literally is.

As the weeks go on — and, at present, all indications are that the leak will continue for weeks to come — Flow will be aggregating some of the most pressing questions on the disaster.

In the meantime, PBS has released a widget that calculates the total amount of crude oil based on a range that runs from the lowest published estimate (210,000 gallons a day) to the worst-case scenario. While it’s hard to contextualize the size of the spill — though the New York Times provides a time-lapsed map of the area — the widget provides a sense both of its possible scale, and of the differences that different estimates make when the scale of the disaster is already so huge.

For Monday, May 10, here is a quick rundown of some of the most interesting articles published on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

Launching Alberta’s energy future

April 12, 2010

It’s a drum that Flow’s been beating since our very first post: energy is important to Canadians (376KB PDF) (even if they feel like their role in policy-making is limited. The hitch, of course, is that it’s not always easy to make it clear to Canadians just how important that energy is, and the result can lead to confusion and, often, downright hostility.

In Alberta, where the energy industry employs one in six people, energy education is especially important. That’s why a group of seven Alberta associations that includes the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Alberta Enterprise Group recently launched their “Alberta is Energy” campaign, an initiative designed to raise “awareness about the important role the oil and gas industry plays in the lives of Albertans.” Announced at a luncheon in Calgary’s Hyatt Regency Hotel that drew hundreds of industry and governmental representatives, the “Alberta is Energy” campaign is largely in response to the Government of Alberta’s recent competitiveness review (2.7 MB PDF), which saw royalty rates for energy reduced in order to encourage investment.

At the centre of the initiative’s launch was an address by David Collyer, president of CAPP. Addressing the current state and likely future of the energy industry, Collyer’s speech included references to the changing (and increasing) patterns of energy consumption, the importance of responsible production, collaborative solutions and the importance of public communication, as underlined by the “Alberta is Energy” campaign itself.

Recognizing the growing demand for energy, both nationally and particularly globally, Collyer first argued for the oil and natural gas industry as a basis for long-term growth in the province.

“Contrary to the gambler archetype,” he said, “global capital does not want radical change.”

In terms of resources, Collyer’s speech separately addressed oil and natural gas in Western Canada, the natural gas industry and the oil sands. These energy sources, he said, would ultimately be part of an “ecclesiastical” mix of resources where “there is room for all fuels in the energy mix.” He went on to note that tax revenues declined in the aftermath of the provincial government’s previous royalty rate increase, and suggested that future growth would depend on encouraging investment, collaboration and awareness.

Two themes underlined Collyer’s speech: communication and improved production.  At the moment, examples of efforts to promote the energy industry’s record on responsibility include CAPP’s Stewardship of Excellence Awards and its Responsible Canadian Energy Program.

“Alberta is Energy” adds another layer to the campaign to communicate this responsibility, and relates most directly to the industry’s overall communication efforts. This includes both energy consumers and the regulators and industries most directly involved in planning the country’s energy future.

Collaboration was a related theme in the campaign’s launch, with Collyer citing the need for relationships between energy companies, the communities they operate in and the stakeholders who ultimately benefit (a major component of the campaign seen in its “Feature Stories”). Collyer’s speech made several references to the need to find middle ground, a position that is often elusive.

“On both sides,” he said, referring to the energy industry and environmental advocacy groups, “there is room for less talking and more listening.”

But if the launch event was intended to provoke a sense of energy, both literally and figuratively “energizing,” Collyer made it clear that the industry recognizes that its long-term survival and adaptation will not be instantaneous. While improved performance will ultimately provide a solid basis for the kind of public engagement that lets Canadians know how important their energy is, these two strategies will ultimately take time.

“This is a marathon,” said Collyer. “Not a sprint.”

Something old, something new and something green

March 29, 2010

What is the future going to look like?

It’s not a new question, but it’s one we’re still constantly trying to answer. And when it comes to energy, it’s a question that seems to have a few contradictory answers.

On one hand, we already know that Canada’s future is going to be different than its present: with the advent of alternative energy technologies and an increasing emphasis on energy efficiency, Canadians are demanding a bigger say in the energy they use. A national Canadian Centre for Energy Information survey conducted this year found that a full 59 per cent of respondents felt disconnected from decision-making on energy policies. But on the other hand, there are strong economic incentives to continue using the same profitable sources we’ve always used, especially when demand for those sources is growing globally. So, what’s a Canadian to do?

Flow doesn’t have a crystal ball (just a pic), but we’re always doing our best to keep an eye out to the future. So, here are a few thoughts on Canada’s energy future: the new, the old and the green.

Something Old

At the moment, Canada’s primary energy production is dominated by crude oil and natural gas. Together, these two sources make up almost 75 per cent of our total energy exports, exports that totalled $126 billion in 2008. Given the current patterns of global energy consumption, those exports isn’t likely to become any less important to the country.

Global demand for both oil and natural gas is continuing to rise, driven by demand in Asia and the Middle East, particularly China. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), demand in the transportation sector alone is expected to climb 41 per cent by 2030. And with most of that demand occurring in the developing world, Canada’s strength as an exporter is likely to continue, especially with oil reserves actually continuing to grow.

In fact, despite the fact that oil is a non-renewable resource, developments in areas like Alberta’s oil sands — the second largest oil reserve in the world — have hiked the planet’s total proved reserves to 1,258 billion barrels. If demand continues to increase, there will continue to be reserves to meet this demand into the near future.

One of the places where industry will be discussing that near future will be the CERI 2010 Oil Conference, a three-day event running between April 18 and 20. With session titles like “Conventional Oil: Last Rights or New Breath?” it’s clear that the industry recognizes that changes are coming, but with demand continuing, there’s strong reason to believe that the future won’t necessarily be unrecognizable.

Still, while oil and natural gas have long been mainstays of the Canadian energy mix, an increasing emphasis on the environmental impact of their use has fuelled the development of alternative energy sources.  The field of alternative energy includes sources as varied as biomass and waste products, but two of the leading areas in the field of alternative energy continue to be solar and wind.

Something New

Solar and wind energy are two of the most common examples of energy technologies that are changing the Canadian energy mix, and are likely to continue to change it into our future. Solar power is already becoming increasingly common in Canadian homes and once-distant wind turbine might end up finding their way into our cities.

For now, solar energy is primarily used in two ways in Canadian homes, either passively and actively. Examples of active use include photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity or through solar heating panels that transmit the sun’s heat through a heat-transfer liquid. Passive uses of solar energy include architectural changes that allow homes to absorb ambient heat and redirect it in much the same way that a heating duct redirects a furnace’s.

At a federal level, solar development is supported through Natural Resource Canada’s CanmetENERGY, whose solar projects include research into low energy solar homes and developing codes, certification, and installation standards for PV systems and components. The agency has even developed a useful map of PV potential across the country demonstrating Canada’s solar potential.

Given that potential, it’s not surprising that organizations like The Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) are trying to get professionals networking. In May, CanSIA will host its first-ever regional conference. Running for two days, May 25 and 26, the conference’s topics include “The economics of solar – can it make sense?”, “Sharing the Western Landscape…where do renewables and solar fit in?” and a “Solar Showcase” featuring private and public industry figures.

Wind, meanwhile, continues to be largely a commercial, rather than a residential sector. Though there are wind turbines small enough to be used residentially, they aren’t nearly as common as their larger, commercial brothers.

For now, wind represents only 0.3 per cent of the country’s total electricity mix, but given global trends it’s not difficult to imagine that number growing. In fact, in the last 10 years, wind power use globally has increased annually by 30 per cent. The applications for Canada, where rural communities sometimes require their own power, are considerable. Operations adding diesel or hydro to intermittent wind, for example, could provide the same amount of energy with fewer emissions and other negative environmental impacts. Expect issues like these to be discussed at The Canadian Wind Energy Association’s upcoming Wind Energy Forum, running from April 13 to 14 in Toronto.

Something Green

Whether they’re fossil fuels or renewable energy sources, one of our strongest motivations for changing the way we use energy continues to be our concern over greenhouse gas emissions. Even if our mix continues to include fuels that produce these emissions, the way we use our energy is becoming just as important as the types of energy sources we use. Canada’s energy future, then, is likely to include changes in that use, both by consumers and businesses.

For those industries already producing fossil fuels, the emphasis will now be on “cleaner” versions. From carbon capture and storage technology that will trap much of the carbon dioxide ultimately released into the atmosphere, to fundamental changes in the way that oil and natural gas are extracted. At least one of the many public acknowledgements of this move toward cleaner fossil fuels can be seen in the U.S.- Canada Clean Energy Dialogue, a resolution between the two countries aimed at reducing the intensity of the energy industry’s emissions.

Consumers, meanwhile, in addition to being able to purchase home-based energy systems that can sell power back to the grid, as Ontarians can do under the province’s Feed-In Tariff program, are using less energy. And provincial governments are doing what they can to ensure that this conservation becomes a large part of the country’s energy future.

Provincial governments have already nodded to the importance of reducing their citizens’ energy use, creating agencies like Quebec’s Agence de l’efficacité énergétique and Prince Edward Island’s Office of Energy Efficiency to centrally manage provincial energy efficiency initiatives. Together with more rigorous building codes and incentive programs that encourage everything from low flow toilets to more efficient appliances, the hope is that future energy use will not only be defined by resources like oil and natural gas, wind and solar, but by the consumers who ultimately use them.

Infinity, Genetics and Oil

October 31, 2009

geneticsWhat do you do when you have more choices than atoms in the universe? You develop computer software to make the best decision… and not just any software but the type that is modeled after life itself. Enter Genetic Algorithms (GA), a class of computer programs that mimic the process of biological genetics in order to find the best possible solvent-steam recipe for getting the most oil out of a reservoir.

“For the last 15 years researchers have been trying to get the optimal amount of oil out of various geologic formations, by injecting different combinations of solvents and steam,” explains Laricina Energy Ltd.’s Neil Edmunds, Vice President Enhanced Oil Recovery. “The very first time we used this new software, it ran for two weeks and produced results that were superior to all the best techniques that human beings had written down over the last 15 years.”

The use of solvent and steam is preceded by technologies that injected only steam, a common extraction approach of in-situ oil sands operators today. With hard sticky bitumen deep below the surface in oil sands geologic formations, the steam heats it enough so that it can be extracted like conventional oil. This is often done through a process called steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which is one of the most well known in-situ techniques. Latin for “in place”, in-situ technology recovers bitumen from deep below the earth’s surface using wellbores. In-situ operators use various approaches to loosen the viscosity of the bitumen enough so that it can flow up through a production well. In the case of SAGD technology, steam is injected into one horizontal well and the softened bitumen flows down into a parallel production well where it is pumped to the surface.

SAGD requires energy and water (mostly non-potable groundwater from deep saline aquifers) to generate the steam needed to heat the bitumen. Industry has been improving the efficiency of SAGD with engineering and better technology that continues to reduce oil sands water and energy use which not only improves the economics but reduces greenhouse gas emissions. For companies like Imperial Oil, Laricina and EnCana, one solution is using solvents which act as diluents for bitumen. On one end of the solvent-use spectrum, there is the cold solvents approach, which basically involves no steam and injecting a solvent like propane into the oil to make it thin enough to be pumped. While this approach requires minimal energy and has no emissions or water usage, it is also comparable to the speed at which molasses flows on a cool January morning.

“If the process is too slow, you end up needing to drill too many wells,” explains Edmunds, “which impacts your rate of return and efficiency”. As it is right now, the cold-solvent extraction approach is too slow to be efficient. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum is the previously discussed SAGD approach in which no solvents are used at all. The gamut of possibilities that sits between the two extremes is astronomically large.

“The problem with using solvents is the number of choices you can make,” explains Edmunds.  “If you have a certain amount of steam and two types of solvents, for example, and let’s say we’re going to allow for a different injection rate every few months, and you do that for five years, you end up with more possibilities than the number of atoms in the universe.”

Making Choices

So how exactly does it all work and why are there so many changing variables involved? Basically, a solvent combination with a low boiling point is injected together with the steam, Edmunds explains. As the steam mixture moves out into the reservoir the steam condenses at a higher temperature than the solvent, causing the solvent vapour to move ahead of the steam, essentially “beating the steam to the punch.” Ultimately this allows the entire steam front to move through the reservoir quicker as the solvent mobilizes the oil in regions that are cooler than the steam zone. “At the end of the day we’re draining the same oil using half the steam and therefore half the water and half the carbon emissions.”

Of course the term “half” in all of these contexts is variable depending on the choices an engineer makes on a project. And it’s not just the solvent types, mixes and quantities that make for an expansive array of possibilities, but other variables as well, such as the shape, size and characteristics of a reservoir or the steam and solvent injection rate. Even economic factors such as market prices of solvents can exponentially increase the number of variables in a given operation.

“If there are 60 possible variables, and each one of those variables can have 10 values, the total number of different options is 1060,” explains Edmunds, likening the optimization process to finding the highest peak of a mountain, which is usually obscured by clouds. “In this sense, the surface to be optimized on cannot be seen (only sampled at different points), it exists in many, many dimensions, it is very nonlinear and therefore the same action often generates different or opposite effects when applied in different situations.” In other words, it makes advanced calculus look like a game of duck-duck-goose.

But that hasn’t stopped companies from trying to nail down an optimal process. In the end, the sheer enormity of possibilities explored on a pencil-to-paper basis was enough to drive throngs of engineers crazy, making the transition from wetware to software an inevitable part of the technology’s evolution.

Using Smarter Software

“Genetic Algorithms is a program for automating the process of optimizing complex and nonlinear problems,” explains Edmunds, adding that GA is basically an implementation of some of the basic mechanisms of biological evolution. And it seems to make sense. Genetic variation is, after all, a process that also optimizes outcomes that are best suited to organisms’ environments and also deals with a vast selection of seemingly infinite variables.

Sticking with the analogy, the engineer creates a ‘genome’ that defines an arbitrary number of variables to be investigated, each with a finite range and specified number of possible values. Using the software, the genome is a simulation that reflects the particular values encoded in an arbitrary bit string of a certain length. The engineer could input an ‘objective function’ for a given simulation, such as ‘minimize supply cost’, as one example out of many. The program would then calculate the ‘score’ based on economic evaluation.

“Essentially, we’re just borrowing from nature itself to find ways to get the most amount of oil for the least amount of cost and environmental impact,” concludes Edmunds who also teaches as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.

So far, Laricina has conducted a series of tests with solvents in its carbonate Grosmont Formation at Saleski, southwest of Fort McMurray. As GA software continues to simulate and model various solvent-steam combinations, the company expects commercial production to begin in 2014 and grow steadily for 10 to 15 years, all the while improving recovery techniques, lowering operating costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Great Oil Sands Journey Part 5

October 6, 2009

Idling cars are the devil’s greenhouse

w2w-story03Imagine, for a moment, that we lived in an ideal world. Apples and avocados don’t turn brown an hour after being sliced. You always get perfect radio reception, even in tunnels, and commercials tend to be of lower volume than the television show you’re watching.

Wheels to Winds

Part five of a five-part series

Let’s imagine how the combustion engine in your car would work in this world. First, you have your gasoline which contains your hydrogen and carbon. Then you have the air, which is full of oxygen. The oxygen in the air would convert all the hydrogen in the fuel into drinking water and all the carbon in the fuel into carbon dioxide. Let’s say that whenever these reactions occurred, a natural byproduct would be music. And all the nitrogen in the air would watch with vague interest, but opt not to get involved.

Now for a reality check. In the real world, the hydrocarbons in the fuel react with the nitrogen in the air as well. The end result after the oxygen and nitrogen comingle with the hydrocarbons is the following:

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx) which are precursors to ozone and components of acid rain.
  • Hydrocarbons which are basically any of the fuel that doesn’t burn completely. Smog results when hydrocarbons react with nitrogen oxides and sunlight.
  • Carbon Monoxide which is similar to carbon dioxide, except there is only one oxygen atom (CO) instead of two (CO2). This occurs when there is incomplete combustion, which happens periodically, and the fuel is only partially oxidized. As you may know, carbon monoxide can be lethal as it diminishes the amount of oxygen in the blood when inhaled. That extra oxygen molecule is very important when it comes to that whole breathing and staying alive thing that we always have to worry about.
  • Carbon Dioxide which is a greenhouse gas, a leading cause of climate change.
  • Water which is, unfortunately, no more than a fine, warm mist at this point, so you can’t really drink it.

Aside from exhaust emissions described above, keep in mind that there are also emissions that result from refueling your car and simple fuel evaporation that occurs on hot days, causing the gasoline to slowly evaporate. Needless to say, this is certainly not ideal.

Now, let’s take a giant step back and look at how many greenhouse gases result right from the beginning, when the bitumen is extracted from the oil sands, to the end, when the fuel is burned in your car. A common description of this more thorough way of looking at oil sands emissions is ‘from wells to wheels’. People have been known to say that oil sands greenhouse gas emissions are three to four times higher than conventional crude oil. This figure does not take into account the full lifecycle of oil sands, from extraction and processing through to combustion of its refined products.

According to recent research on full life-cycle emissions released by IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), oil sands emissions are five to 15 per cent higher than conventional crude oil like Saudi light, or California heavy oil. The reason for the major difference in these averages is because 70 to 80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions from all refined products are emitted by us when we drive.

Of course, people are reluctant to take responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. But once you realize that you have a pretty big piece of the emissions pie, there are things you can do to make it smaller, such as:

  • Walk or bike. You don’t need to drive to get to your friend’s house, especially if they live next door.
  • Buy a hybrid or fuel efficient car. Sure, they come with their criticisms, but they’re a step, or rather a drive in the right direction.
  • Safe hypermiling like lessening cargo, not breaking or accelerating suddenly and not idling. Remember the old saying: idling cars are the devil’s greenhouse… er… something like that…
  • Avoid wrong turns by preplanning trips or using a GPS system. Not only do you help the environment but you get to be not lost, which is always nice.

Of course, that doesn’t mean industry shouldn’t do its part to reduce emissions either. Even five per cent composes a significant amount of emissions. The general consensus seems to be that reducing emissions in the future will rely heavily on technology, technology, technology.

David Layzell from the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy says that future oil sands technologies will likely fall into one or more of the following four categories:

  1. Mechanical – focuses on finding more creative ways to efficiently separate oil from sand (Layzell hints that there are already proprietary projects in the pipes).
  2. Thermal – focuses on how to extract more bitumen using less steam, and therefore less energy to create the steam. Another approach in this category is using cleaner energy to power the in situ process. Gasification of petroleum coke, a byproduct of many oil sands operations, is also an interesting alternative since the CO2 stream that is created can be captured and stored relatively easily, thereby eliminating atmospheric emissions.
  3. Chemical – has two approaches, mainly in the in situ category of oil sands extraction. One is using solvents instead of energy intensive steam to lessen the viscosity of the bitumen so it can flow to the surface.  The other using nanocatalysts that transform the oil into a lighter crude before it is pumped to the surface.
  4. Biological – This approach uses bacteria to metabolize the oil and convert it into methane, leaving behind toxic sulphur and nitrogen compounds. The methane can then be extracted in a way similar to less carbon-heavy natural gas.

For an idea of what the oil sands industry is doing right now to reduce its impact on the environment, visit www.canadasoilsands.ca. Click on the section ‘what we’re doing’ to get an idea of the initiatives industry is voluntarily undertaking to reduce its impact on air, land, and water, as well as its effect on nearby communities. The website also provides a forum for Canadians to discuss oil sands issues.

Finally, as we all line up to accept our ownership of this unsavory emissions pie, let’s take a quick look at what the government is doing. The Government of Canada has its Turning the Corner Plan which aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent of 2006 levels by 2020. Also, Environment Minister Jim Prentice recently announced that Canada would be implementing tough emissions laws to match those imposed in Washington under the vigorous American Clean Energy and Security Act. In addition to that, both the Government of Canada and the Alberta government have been known to foot some of the bill for research and development of new, emissions-reducing technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

Of course, the solutions discussed above for consumers, industry and government are not an exhaustive list. Saving the planet seems to be, at times, a daunting challenge that leaves many people wondering if their actions make a difference. But don’t let that take the wind out of your sails. You’ve seen the power of the ripple effect in the ‘waves to wells’ story and the power of individual perseverance and innovation in the ‘wells to wheels’ story. The’ wheels to winds’ story is about you and me, and the how small decisions can have huge affects on the environment, the economy and the world around us.

This is as much a story about how we power our lives, as it is one about the power we each have as individuals. We determine the ending.

Next Page »