DOING SOME DIGGING – Good News, Bad News on the Energy Front

With the cold Canadian winter fast approaching and cost of crude oil rocketing skyward, it comes as good news that...
With the cold Canadian winter fast approaching and cost of crude oil rocketing skyward, it comes as good news that IMPERIAL OIL has committed $10 million for oil sands research at the UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA. The funds will be spent over the next five years to create a new research facility, the Imperial Oil Centre for Oil Sands Innovation.

The centre will be administered by the Faculty of Engineering. Its mandate is to find more efficient, economically viable and environmentally responsible ways to develop Canada's oil sands resources, one of the largest crude oil deposits in the world. The oil sands of northern Alberta are estimated to contain between 1.6 trillion and 2.5 trillion barrels of bitumen. This is five times more than conventional oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. Or put another way, the oil sands could supply Canada's energy needs for more than 475 years, or total world needs for up to 15 years. The Athabasca deposit alone is twice the size of Lake Ontario.

The bad news is that the INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY of Paris, France, estimated earlier this week that world energy demand will rise 60% by 2030. Oil demand will grow 1.6% annually to 121 million bbl/day by 2030, compared with current demand of 82 million bbl/day. Demand for natural gas will double during the same period, and the use of coal is likely to increase by 1.5% annually. The IEA further predicts that nuclear power will grow only very slightly but non-carbon-emitting renewable energy sources will triple to supply a meager 6% of the world's electricity needs. The agency's website,, has a profusion of energy-related statistics and publications for coal, oil, natural gas and electricity.

At the rate energy demand is forecast to grow, perhaps Canada's oil sands will be sufficient for fewer years than estimated. Imperial's $10-million research imitative is small compared to the global energy industry, but it is a step in the right direction. Even if the world's energy demand could be met from non-carbon-emitting renewable sources, petroleum products will still be needed for a host of other industrial products.


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