How to make Alberta an energy superpower

The government must get back in the business of being in business, Satya Das argues

January 01, 2012

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Canada is about to become the world’s largest oil reservoir. Not one of the largest, not among the leaders – number one. Sometime before 2020, the technology that’s making Alberta’s oil sands cleaner, more sustainable and more accessible will give us certified reserves of 300 billion barrels or more. In a world addicted to hydrocarbons, we are front and center.

So how do we take this win in the geological lottery and make Alberta an energy superpower? By getting government back in the business of being in business. We have to, as we build the common wealth and advance the common good. Alberta’s public interest demands that we process bitumen in Alberta and use that wealth to build the green future for the province right here.

What does that mean? We base that future on knowledge and innovation; on the bio-economy and the nano-economy; on the ingenuity of today’s Albertans. And we use our wealth to build the capacity of our First Nations and others who don’t have the skills and resources they need to participate in the great opportunity of our province.

And we build it on the ingenuity of future Albertans, the ones we will attract here through a proactive immigration policy, by signing special immigration deals with Ottawa so we can throw our doors open to the best and the brightest. We want to bring them to the most inclusive and welcoming society in the world – an Alberta where we reward you for what you bring to the table, instead of judging you by what you look like or how you sound when you talk.

Like Peter Lougheed, we take the lead in enhancing the province’s made-in-Alberta resource processing. We will expand the bitumen royalty-in-kind (BRIK) program. We will set a goal that by 2020, we will upgrade 80 per cent of our bitumen in Alberta – building on what is already done by Syncrude, Suncor, Shell and the new merchant upgrader where we plan to process the first BRIK stream.

We will use our non-renewable resource revenue to build publicly owned bitumen upgrading and refining, including a petrochemical component. The Shell Scotford complex is a great template to work from. They do it all there. And so can we. So let’s establish ACE – the Alberta Clean Energy company. This publicly owned company is our ACE in the hole. It gives us the power to play the strongest hand we can for Alberta’s future.

How are we going to play our ACE? We’ll fund it, and we’ll give Albertans a chance to buy shares right from the get-go. That’s what Mr. Lougheed did in setting up Alberta Energy Company. And those original shareholders who kept their investment until it became Encana and Cenovus aren’t exactly crying all the way to the bank.

We’ll build it in the Industrial Heartland. And as Shell does, we’ll take our BRIK bitumen stream, upgrade it, refine it, and strip out the petrochemical elements for processing. And we’ll go one step further; we can play our ACE another big way. We’ll use the petrochemical building blocks we get, combine them with bio-economy building blocks, using the tools of nanotechnology. How’s that for a powerhouse of innovation, producing the building materials of the future?

Scientists tell us that thanks to nano tools, we can do amazing things from the raw material we have on hand. We need petrochemical fiber, wood fiber (the starches and sugars in trees killed by pine beetles, for instance) and agricultural fiber. Alberta’s the one place in the world that has all three in abundance. That’s how we’ll play our ACE.

Alberta Clean Energy will process, upgrade and extract value from the raw bitumen we receive as royalties. We’ll use more royalty money to build that capacity. We’ll process the bitumen more cleanly than ever before. That’s how we make oil sands production cleaner, and help the planet. We’ll fund a petro-agro-biomaterials industry and unleash its potential by using the power of the knowledge economy.

When it comes to putting our cards on the table, we’ll play a hand with four ACEs – adding value, adding jobs, unleashing innovation and building the green future. And that will make Alberta an energy superpower.

Satya Das is the founder and principal of Cambridge Strategies Inc. in Edmonton and the author of Green Oil.

This is the first in a series of guest columns. Remember to check each month for future submissions.

More posts by Satya Das

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2 Responses to “How to make Alberta an energy superpower”

  1. Pete Duke says:

    Excellent article with a positive outlook. Keep the feds out of it and we’ll be fine.

  2. ABCanuck says:


    Terrific summary of what we Albertans should be doing – innovation, ingenuity, leadership, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, caring for people and the environment, “acting like owners” and world leaders, and creating an exemplary society where everyone is looked after.