Canadian Mining Journal

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PERSPECTIVE: Oil sands miners join forces for environmental change

Twelve of this country’s oil sands producers have launched Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an alliance focussed on making positive environmental change more quickly in their sector.



Twelve of this country’s oil sands producers have launched Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an alliance focussed on making positive environmental change more quickly in their sector.

Executives of BP Canada, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, ConocoPhillips Canada, Devon Canada, Imperial Oil, Nexen, Shell Canada, Statoil Canada, Suncor Energy, Teck Resources and Total E&P Canada signed the founding charter in Calgary on March 1, 2012. Their intent is to “enable responsible and sustainable growth of Canada’s oil sands while delivering accelerated improvement in environmental performance through collaborative action and innovation.”

COSIA plans to create the means through which producers and other stakeholders can work together for a cleaner environment. The alliance will identify, develop and apply solutions-oriented innovation around the most pressing oil sands environmental challenges, specifically water, land, greenhouse gases and tailings, and will communicate COSIA’s efforts and successes in addressing those challenges.

To ensure the alliance packs a punch, former Canadian Football League linebacker Dr. Dan Wicklum was named the CEO. He played for Winnipeg (1988) and Calgary (1989-91) before returning to school. He completed a BSc in biology (University of Guelph, 1990) followed by an MSc in aquatic ecology (University of Calgary, 1994). He then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in aquatic ecology (University of Montana, 1998). After completing his graduate education, Wicklum took a faculty position as a research assistant professor at the University of Montana.

In 2000, he became a senior policy advisor to the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources and the government house leader, and was subsequently director of strategic alliances for Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service.

Wicklum then launched, and became executive director of, The Canadian Forest Innovation Council before joining Environment Canada in various senior science management roles including director general of wildlife and landscape science and director general of water science and technology.

With such an impressive résumé, Wicklum may be the perfect leader for COSIA. His academic credentials are impeccable, he undoubtedly has political savvy, and who in this country doesn’t cheer for the CFL?

But the job of convincing the public that bitumen is not “dirty oil” will be a challenge. The oil sands producers have been attacked on all sides for their environmental record. Some of criticism is justified. After more than three decades as an industry watcher, I remember in the 1970s that suspended slimes in tailings ponds was a concern even then. It has taken the passage of many years and creation of new techniques to begin to solve that problem, but revegetation of decommissioned tailings ponds is now possible.

The creation of COSIA is an extraordinary commitment to share environmental intellectual property. For a dozen companies to reveal cutting edge technology on this scale is unique. I applaud these companies for realizing they are all in the same environmental boat and agreeing to propel it forward together.

I have every confidence that the oil sands sector will continue to improve its environmental performance. The public does not see how far the industry has come, and part of COSIA’s mission is to tell them. And there will be lots of good news.

COSIA has created a website at COSIA.ca.