t f

Problem 2

High environmental degradation related to global diversification of fossil fuel extraction.

Problem Dimensions

Technological Advancement

Technological progress will enable suppliers of energy, motivated by rising prices, to pursue unconventional sources of fossil fuels.[1]

  • Fossil fuels still represent the cheapest means to keep global markets lubricated and performing well.

Competing Interests

The competing perspectives of stakeholders in Alberta, Canada’s Oil Sands industry exemplify the issues involved in unconventional oil extraction.

  • Policy makers must balance the benefits of the Oil Sands (energy security and revenue) against the social and environmental impacts of extraction.[2]
  • Regulatory limits do not seem to have kept pace with the industry’s expansion. 3.2-4.5 times more GHG intensive than conventional oil, the rate and scale of the industry’s growth places an untenable strain on nature and is expected to continue.[3]
  • Current technology that is being developed can facilitate 28-35% reductions in energy consumption and GHG emissions as well as reduce water use.[4]
  • Expansion of the Oil Sands will be pursued by producers to provide energy consumers with the products they demand.[5]
  • · The voters of a democratic nation support a government’s decision to expand domestic unconventional oil industries despite environmental degradation.



Conventional Solutions

Improve the efficiency of unconventional oil extraction to reduce environmental impact.

Examples from Alberta’s Oil Sands industry: [6]

  • Coordination between bureaucracy and politicians at all levels.
  • Government applies a “Clean Energy Lens” which balances environmental, economic and social outcomes.
  • Research and Development is the cornerstone of improving efficiency.
    • Direct government investment in R&D.
    • Encourage research and collaboration between oil sands companies.
      • E.g. Suncor’s Oxy-fuel SAGD Boiler project.
    • Recycle funds from carbon tax or levy back into R&D.
    • Accept greater risk as regulators.
    • Transparency and accountability.
      • E.g. Real time streaming of data from stations that monitor air and water.


If the majority of voters at a federal level do not support climate change protection, then revolutionary initiatives must grow from the local level. [7]

Collaboration between stakeholders and civil action broached Alberta’s Oil Sands as an international concern. [8]

  • E.g. The Province of British Columbia has one of the best carbon taxes in the world. [9]
  • E.g. The City of Vancouver features some of the most aggressive targets in North America and has the smallest carbon footprint of any major city on the continent. [10]
Progressive Solutions

Remove fossil fuels from our energy mix beginning with the cessation of unconventional oil’s development.

During the Question and Answer portion of the Future of the Oil Sands session, a delegate mentioned her work exposes her to some of the latest research on climate change. She said she couldn’t sleep at night because of it. She knows we’re heading into a crisis. As a citizen of a democratic and free society she feels it is our responsibility, as people who have reaped the benefits of fossil fuel use as energy, that we are the ones who need to stop the extraction of further fossil fuels to be burned and released as GHG emissions.

Barriers to this solution

Imposing punitive regulations on a single sector, like the Oil Sands, will reduce energy security and Canada’s economic welfare.

Overcoming Barriers
  • Accelerate the transition to renewable energy by:[11]
    • Shifting inputs of production (labour and capital) from oil to clean-technology industries like hydrogen or electric cars.
  • Create policy framework to support this transition by:
    • Using economic mechanisms like a continental cap and trade system, carbon taxes, subsidies and rebates to price environmental impacts of goods.[12]
    • Altering public perception of consumers to demand these products and embrace these policies.
    • Leveraging civil activism will be the most important step to altering public perception.


  1. [1]   Dr. David Goodstein, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Caltech, author of Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil and speaker for the Renewable Leap Forward session at ISES 2011
  2. [2] Roger Ramcharita, Director of the Clean Energy Branch at Alberta Environment and speaker for the Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.
  3. [3] Jennifer Grant, Oil Sands Program Director at the Pembina Institute and speaker for the Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.
  4. [4] Dr. John Zhou, Executive Director of Environmental Technologies at Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions and speaker for the Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.
  5. [5]    Stephen Kaufman, Director of Business Development at Suncor Energy and speaker for the Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.  
  6. [6] The Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.
  7. [7] Expanded in Problem 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
  8. [8] Roger Ramcharita, Director of the Clean Energy Branch at Alberta Environment and speaker for the Future of the Oil Sands session at ISES 2011.
  9. [9] Dr. Mark Jaccard, Professor of the School of Resource and Environment Management at Simon Fraser University and Keynote Speaker at ISES 2011.
  10. [10] http://vancouver.ca/greenestcity/
  11. [11] Expanded in Problems 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
  12. [12] Expanded in Problem 5.


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