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Alberta pursues massive opportunities in traditional and renewable energy as global transition accelerates

ASC Connect brings together stakeholders from Alberta and across Canada to discuss critical issues and evolving trends affecting Alberta’s capital market

Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission
Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission

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The energy transition is accelerating at the same time as the world hunts for a more secure supply of oil and gas from stable countries. Together, these two things are creating major opportunities for Canadian energy. 

At ASC Connect 2023, a diverse panel of energy leaders explored the work Alberta companies and other stakeholders are doing to capitalize on these opportunities, the challenges they’re facing, and how collaboration will help usher in a new age for Canadian energy. 

Hosted annually by the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC), ASC Connect brings together stakeholders from Alberta and across Canada to discuss critical issues and evolving trends affecting Alberta’s capital market.

During a morning panel discussion, business leaders explored the opportunities for energy issuers, investors and all stakeholders. The panel consisted of:

  • Jackie Forrest, Executive Director, ARC Energy Research Institute & Managing Director, ARC Financial Corp. 
  • Wes Jickling, Vice-President, Technology Development & CEO of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Pathways Alliance
  • Stephen Mason, Chairman & CEO, Reconciliation Energy Transition Inc.
  • David Van Den Assem, Director, Hydrogen Centre of Excellence & Director, Clean Technology, Alberta Innovates
  • Craig Burns, Manager, Energy Group, ASC (panel moderator)

Carbon capture was a key focus of the discussion — its potential impact and questions about the viability of the technology and long-term demand if hydrocarbon usage eventually peaks or declines.

Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission

“There was always skepticism about the oil sands, that it would never be economically viable. We’ve overcome that,” said Jickling of Pathways Alliance. “Carbon capture is a similar defining challenge for Canadian energy so this isn’t unfamiliar territory. But we’re at record levels of oil consumption. We need to do better, we need to reduce emissions, we need to be environmentally responsible. We have to find a way, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Jickling noted that the foundational project of the Pathways Alliance — a collaborative effort of Canada’s six largest oil sands companies — is a carbon capture facility that will be located in Cold Lake, Alberta, which is targeting the capture of 10 to 12 million tonnes of carbon by 2030. 

Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission

Jackie Forrest of ARC Financial echoed the ongoing global need for Canadian oil and gas, but from a different angle.

“Only about 25 per cent of the world’s oil supply comes from countries that would be considered stable, secure and non-corrupt, so we think that’s going to be a very important differentiator for Canada. Alberta has a great opportunity to be a secure source of supply,” she said.

Also part of the discussion was Alberta’s history of energy innovation. The panel talked about current cleantech and renewable energy initiatives, including everything from biofuels to geothermal, to the potential for small modular nuclear power.

One of the key areas of focus: hydrogen.

“The Hydrogen Centre of Excellence started with $50 million in seed funding from the province of Alberta,” said David Van Den Assem of Alberta Innovates. “Its intent is to integrate hydrogen use into the energy system within Alberta.”

Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission

Alberta Innovates provides non-dilutive funding to help advance technologies, business advice and support for entrepreneurs, as well as connections, networking and collaboration support. 

While Van Den Assem was enthusiastic about hydrogen, Forrest believes Canadian hydrogen producers face challenges compared to initiatives in the U.S. where there are substantial tax incentives to develop the technology. In 2022 the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act was introduced, and that included $370 billion (USD) in subsidies for clean energy.

“I’m not that optimistic we’re going to see a whole bunch of hydrogen investment,” Forrest said. “I just don’t see the economics working here.”

Van Den Assem agreed there are challenges, but sees the hydrogen opportunity as being similar to Pathways Alliance’s carbon capture efforts. Although it may seem implausible now, history has shown us that in Alberta’s energy industry, a lot of challenges can be overcome.

“We’re in a very different position than the same technology providers and users in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m hoping that awareness moves things along [here in Canada.] I also think everything moves on a trajectory of development. We saw it with solar in the ‘70s, where a solar panel was ridiculously expensive. Wind came shortly after, then electric. They’re all just now starting to reach their peak. Hydrogen is just a little further behind — but it’s on the same trajectory.”

As panelists discussed challenges and opportunities for the energy industry, an emphasis was placed on the importance of cooperation. All panelists considered it a critical factor for Alberta to seize the economic opportunities in both traditional and renewable energy.

Photo courtesy the Alberta Securities Commission

Stephen Mason of Reconciliation Energy Transition Inc. shared some of the work his organization is doing to develop cooperative projects with Indigenous communities in the province. 

“If we are going to get major infrastructure projects built, we have to take a different view,” said Mason about the ideal approach to collaborating and cooperating with Indigenous groups. “Rather than promising jobs for the building of a pipeline, which go away when it’s done, or some level of token surface lease rentals, we need to have a conversation about material equity. That starts at 30 per cent.” 

Mason said landowners and industry need to work with Indigenous Peoples who are impacted by these projects. 

“[Indigenous communities] need to be there in early-stage development, and be aware of the environmental impact of these projects. And they must have a voice at the table and participate from an economic perspective.”

For more information, to see conference highlights, or to replay panel conversations from ASC Connect, visit www.asc.ca/en/asc-connect-2023

Alberta Securities Commission

The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) is the regulatory agency responsible for administering the province's securities laws. It is entrusted to foster a fair and efficient capital market in Alberta and to protect investors. As a member of the Canadian Securities Administrators, the ASC works to improve, coordinate and harmonize the regulation of Canada's capital markets.

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