|Steve Williams, President and COO of Suncor Energy Inc, makes opening remarks at the press conference to announce the formation of COSIA in Calgary on March 1, 2012. Canada's oil sands producers have formed a new alliance, Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), that will focus on accelerating the pace of improving environmental performance in Canada's embattled oil sands. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - Canada’s most prominent climatologist says an oilsands producers’ environmental alliance has its work hugely cut out for it.
While saying the effort’s a step in the right direction, Dr. Andrew Weaver said the coalition of a dozen major companies will have a hard time overcoming justified public skepticism worldwide.
“It’s going to take an awful lot for the industry to show it’s sincere ... people would be less cynical if it’s shown not to be green-washing,” said Weaver, following the announcement of the creation of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).
The University of Victoria scientist co-authored a much-cited study released last month stating the burning of coal is ultimately more environmentally damaging than the combustion of oilsands bitumen.
While COSIA’s birth is a positive move, which also furthers the discussion of environmental degradation, Weaver said the industry hasn’t taken enough concrete steps in encouraging emissions regulations.
“They’ve been on the sidelines — they need to be really vocal about pricing emissions,” said Weaver.
Even more important than COSIA, he said, is the need for Ottawa to get serious about environmental regulations — and enforcing them.
“We need federal legislation regulating the pricing of emissions and we’re not getting that,” said Weaver.
But at the same time, he said, there’s a wider societal hypocrisy singling out Alberta and its oilsands as a villain.
The energy industry is simply satisfying the public’s hunger for hydrocarbons, said Weaver.
“Alberta’s painted as this dark tyrant but the bigger problem in our society is the addiction to the combustion of fossil fuels,” he said.
“The oilsands are seen as the poster child of everything bad, but we need to look at ourselves ... it relates to behaviour.”
During COSIA’s official launch on Thursday, Devon Canada Corp. President Chris Seasons said the alliance is profoundly serious about cleaning up the oilsands.
“Improving environmental performance in the oilsands is personal to us,” said Seasons.
A spokesman for environmental think tank the Pembina Institute expressed cautious optimism about COSIA.