Going to be left behind

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It was scientists at the publicly-funded universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta and the Alberta Research Council who were instrumental in developing the technology to economically extract oil from the oil sands.

It was a government-owned airline, Pacific Western Airlines, that provided critical transport between Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray during the early stages of oil sands development when it wasn’t yet economically viable for the private sector.

The provincial government under Peter Lougheed made strategic investments in the oil sands and provincial infrastructure as Alberta’s conventional oil production was waning.

That’s what growth-focussed governments do. They invest in research and development (R&D) for large scientific projects that are too expensive and risky for private sector investment. In Canada much of that government investment is made through universities. 

The universities of Alberta and Calgary have been instrumental in moving Alberta’s economic future forward because of their world-renowned research and development expertise and accomplishments. Yet the provincial government continues to slash their budgets to unsustainable levels at a time when their contribution to the future is so critical.

Norway, a country with an abundance of oil and gas, and Denmark, a country with none, are Lougheed-type examples. We all know about, and many of us are envious of, the Norway story—assets of $1.1 trillion in their Sovereign Wealth fund and over a billion dollars of earnings each year—wealth built on fossil-fuel, but now being invested in the green energy economy of the future.

Denmark’s foresight is even more amazing. They actually started changing their view on energy after the oil crisis created by OPEC in the 1970s. Being dependent on OPEC was not an option for the Danes. In the 1970s, its government started to invest a lot of money into wind energy R&D. 

Today half the country’s electricity comes from wind energy, and it is the largest exporter of wind turbines in the world. The Danish government is now investing in the largest off-shore wind farm in the world, that when completed will meet all of Denmark’s energy needs with surplus for export.

The Canadian government is encouraging Alberta and Saskatchewan to be our Norway or Denmark and they are more than willing to invest to see this happen. 

Alberta has so much to offer in terms of a highly skilled and educated workforce, good infrastructure, enlightened executives running our Canadian-owned energy giants, and highly respected research universities in Calgary and Edmonton. 

We only lack a provincial government willing to use its next 20- to 30-year window of hydrocarbon revenues to invest in R&D and jumpstart new and exciting energy projects of the future.

Tomorrow’s growth industries are clean electricity, carbon capture and storage, carbon utilization, hydrogen, carbon transportation solutions, battery capacity, geo-terminal, advanced biofuels, nuclear energy and electricity storage. 

Wind and solar energy are already financially doable in the private sector after initial investments and incentives by governments, particularly by those in Europe and China.

Alberta is on the cusp. Either we harness our human capital and aggressively start to move into a green economy or we cling to the soon-to-be ‘horse and buggy’ days of coal and heavy oil.

Premier Kenney and his government are afraid of the future. Their fear affects all of us as they discredit and attack scientists and educators at every turn and underfund R&D and public universities.

Kenney’s wallowing in fear, will eventually stagnate the potential future of our younger generations. It will inevitably lead to our smartest and brightest leaving the province to seek their fortunes in jurisdictions that are unafraid to face future challenges head on and forge new and exciting opportunities.

Schimke worked for Syncrude Canada Inc. as Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Finance during its construction and startup phases when direct government investment in the project was essential to secure future success.

 

Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

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