Concern for the Environment has taken a front seat in recent times. This has been occasioned by the realization that for the planet to survive and sustain its population, the environment should be a priority. This has given rise to sustainable utilization of the environment, which calls for the use of resources while ensuring that the future generations’ use of the resources will not be jeopardized. The great concern for the environment has led to the emergence of extreme environmentalists, who have resorted to uncouth or uncivilized methods of ensuring that the environment is well preserved. The paper seeks to examine sustainable oil industry in the face of extreme environmentalism, especially so in the oil fields of Alberta, in Canada.
Environmental concerns and issues have recently increased a hundredfold due to the significance that environmentalism has in the global sustainability. For a long time, the environment, especially the biological aspect, was seen as an inexhaustible resource. Through research, it has been shown that if the environment is not utilized properly, then there is a potential of extinction of both flora and fauna and other major implications .The concern for the environment has seen the rise of extreme environmentalists or eco terrorists. These radical lobbying groups are usually motivated not by money or the promise of returns, but by the pure fact that they see themselves as the guardians of the environment, and they are ready to do anything they can to ensure that environment is left in its pristine natural state.
Extreme environmentalism has grown in leaps and bounds in the recent past. Some of the organizations are well-funded; making them capable to unleash terror to those they deem to be destroying the Environment. Though the extremists have a noble idea of the conservation and preservation of the environment, the way that they carry out their activities taints the very noble task that they undertake. For some, the environmentalists are seen as people who do not embrace change, or as retrogressive people afraid of development. In Alberta, however, the extremists have not been very vocal, partly due to the sound environmental practices adopted by the Alberta community.
Oil and gas have been used widely around to run the economies of many countries. Extensively used in the transport and industrial sectors, it is a product that is very essential for the smooth running of a nation. However, albeit its importance, it comes with a high price in terms of the environmental, political and social consequences. Alberta, Canada, is endowed with massive, non-conventional reserves, which offer a virtual assurance that it can meet the domestic needs and export projections for the foreseeable future. In Alberta, oil resource, though finite, can be said to be sustainable, because there is a hope that it will be there for the future generations.
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Canada is the 5th largest producer of energy, producing about 6% of the energy supplies. It is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas, estimated at 1700-2500 billion barrels. Canada’s deposits of oil sands are even greater than the total amount of conventional oil in the world. At the moment, only 175 billion barrels can be produced using the current technology, making Canada’s oil reserve to be second next to Saudi Arabia. In effect, this means that Canada can comfortably produce three million barrels of oil per day for the next 150 years. The bulk of Canada’s oil is located in province of Alberta, consisting of Athabasca deposits of oil sands, which are enough shallow even for the surface mining. Covering an area of 142,200km2, 3.3 % of Alberta’s oil sands can be developed through surface mining. Commercial production in Alberta began already in 1967, and by 2207, Canada announced the start of massive $27 billion expansion of its oil sands plants in Alberta.
Sustainable management of the oil industry in Alberta is imperative for the sustained growth of the industry. The development is directly anchored to environmental protection, economic and stakeholder interests. It is expected that as man seeks to shift from fossil fuels to a cleaner energy like solar, wind or nuclear energy, the oil industry will contract and lose a sizeable portion of its market share. Currently, the industry faces many challenges, which are projected to increase in the future, especially the ones posed by the environmental lobby groups and other regional and global concerns. The environmental awareness is getting stronger by the day - a fact that is manifested in tougher regulations, more corporate social responsibility, and better working conditions for the workers
Alberta has seen unprecedented economic growth due to the expansion of the oil sands industry. The growth has increased the pressure on Alberta’s natural Environment. Apparently, sustainability of the oil industry is anchored on a sound environmental policy that promises to offer timely and workable mitigation measures. Strict regulations on the ground measures have been put up by the authorities to ensure that air, land, water, and wildlife are protected. The authorities in Alberta have come with strict legislation measures that are enforced to ensure that the Environmental considerations are incorporated in the management of the oil fields. Some of the key policies include:
- Reclamation requirements. The mining companies must ensure that they restore the land as close as possible to its original state prior to mining. The reclamation should meet the set standards, as set by the environmental department, so as to be able to support ecological activities which were previously in existence.
- Financial security. By law, the oil sands companies must provide financial security for the reclamation process. The security, which is the equivalent of the cost of reclamation, is deposited with the Environmental Protection security fund and is returned to the company as land is reclaimed. As of March 2009, the fund held over $820 million in reclamation security from the oil sands companies.
- Alberta’s plan to reduce on Green House Gas emissions. In 2007, Alberta became the first province in North America to legislate green house reductions on large industrial facilities. Under the plan, any industrial facility emitting more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year should reduce the emissions by 12%. To enforce these legislations, Alberta oil companies and other large industries in the province gave three options for meeting the emission reduction quotas by March 31, 2008. They bound themselves:
- To buy carbon credits from other sectors so as to offset the excess carbon dioxide produced;
- To pay not more than 15 dollars for every tonne of carbon dioxide produced;
- To make sustainable and workable solutions so as to reduce Green House Gas emissions immediately.
Research has shown that since the introduction of the legislations in March, 2008, there has been an actual reduction of over 10 million tones of carbon dioxide, attributed to operational changes and practices. Moreover, over $82 million dollars was paid to the Climate Change and Management fund, which currently is worth about $123 million dollars. This money will be invested in other ways of ensuring that there is a sustainable management of Environment.
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Carbon capture and carbon storage is a process that captures emissions of carbon dioxide and then stores these emissions in special geological formations about one or two kilometers deep underground. Alberta has been on the forefront in the use of this technology by committing $2 billion to start carbon capture as well as storage projects in Alberta, and it is expected that by 2015, the facilities put in place will be able to capture and store 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
Alberta region has been very proactive in sustainable management of the oil fields. Canada boasts to have about 25% of the world’s fresh water resources. Alberta has its fare share of the fresh water, which is found in Athabasca River, Cold Lake, Beaver River, and Peace River watersheds. The Athabasca River runs through the oil sands, and proper care should be taken to ensure that the oil sands do not contaminate the rivers. This has been achieved through running continuous monitoring programs and through the operation of over 100 water quality stations in the region. Alberta environment has set the limits as to how much water the oil companies can remove from the Athabasca River under the water management framework for the lower Athabasca River.
All in all, fossil fuels will continue to be used to run global economy in the foreseeable future. Fossil fuels are seen as one of the greatest contributors to global warming due to the huge release of carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere. The shift towards a cleaner energy source is underway, especially so in the developed nations like Canada and North America.
In conclusion, it is evident that there is a great need to have sustainability in the utilization of the natural resources like oil. Different methods have been used for the protection of the environment, one of them being actions by extreme environmental groups. Though their efforts are appreciated, the way that they convey their message is seen as uncivilized and uncalled for .The lobby groups should adopt better and more civilized methods of protecting the environment, like engaging in dialogue and exploring other non violent methods, such as seeking legislations and following the rule of the law. Alberta’s oil industry holds a promise of a bright future not only for Canada but the whole world in general. However, other forms of cleaner energy should be explored in the future so as to reduce global warming and other problems associated with the oil industry.