Sunday, April 29, 2007

Norway's Statoil on GHG emissions in the Oil Sands

Here is an interesting perspective from a European newcomer to the Oil Sands, Statoil a Norwegian oil company, which just acquired North American Oil Sands Corp. A Statoil executive said that last Thursday’s Greenhouse Gas emission targets were no surprise to them, and Vice President Peder Sortland further added: “When it comes to environmental issues we've seen this coming in Europe” and “To us, it was a surprise almost that it didn't come sooner”.

Statoil is planning on using Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology to extract the bitumen from the ground, and it is considering creating an upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan. Statoil has used CO2 Sequestration technology at 3 existing operations and will likely use this technology for this oil sands operation.

Special thanks to Scott’s DiaTribes blog in bringing to light this perspective on this story.

I have never been a fan of too much foreign ownership of Canadian resources such as the Oil Sands, but I think we need this type of leadership to come into this industry wherever it may come from.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My thoughts for Alberta's Climate Change plan

Refocusing Oil Sands Royalties
The existing Generic Royalty Regime for the Oil Sands has outlived its original goal for promoting development in the Oil Sands. The Oil Sands have gone under exponential growth over the last 7 years and have greatly surpassed 1997 expectations (i.e. it reached 1MBbls per day of production by 2004 instead of 2015 as predicted in 1997). Industry analysts including Wood Mackenzie have noted that if the Generic Royalty Regime development incentive were taken away, growth in the Oil Sands will likely not be affected.

On a different note, the Oil Sands account for the single highest source of growth of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Canada. The industry is projected to produce 40Mt of CO2e in 2007, approximately 5% of Canada's total emissions. We must begin to offer incentives followed by tougher regulations to this industry to dramatically reduce its emissions over the next 5-15 years.

Given that the Generic Royalty Regime is no longer value added, we should refocus it as an incentive program for investing in GHG emission cutting measures and technologies, and for ongoing low GHG emission intensity performance (i.e. reward a company when it produces a certain amount less of its allowed GHG emission intensity target).

Phasing Out Natural Gas Rebates
The Natural Gas rebate program does not encourage energy conservation or the use of alternative heating source such as the solar powered boiler systems in Okotoks or geothermal energy, which is becoming more popular in Manitoba. These means cannot become competitive if the Government is subsidizing Natural Gas. I believe this rebate program should be phased out by April of 2008 for all middle-to-high income households in Alberta, and the savings should be redirected to a green technology fund.

Electrical Power Conservation Measures
Providing incentives and overuse penalties to reduce electrical power consumption from residential, commercial and industrial facilities should also be considered.

Upgrading Building Codes to R-2000 Standards
In addition, substantially upgrading our minimal residential, commercial and industrial building codes to R-2000 standards would also be a good measure to consider in the coming years.

Consumer Energy Monitoring
In order to assist the population in reducing its energy consumption, we need to allow people to better measure how much electricity and natural gas they are consuming on a daily basis. You can't manage what you can't control, and you can't control what you don't measure. Household electricity meters that produce real-time power utilization metrics can be purchased for as little as $200. I am not familiar if there are similar household Natural Gas meters out there also. In the coming years, I believe we should aim to have all Alberta households equipped with electricity meters.

Automotive Fuel Efficiency
Another major challenge for this province and the rest of Canada will be to dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuel consumption on the roads within the next 15-30 years. In the short term, we should provide incentives for standard transmission vehicles, as they are generally more fuel-efficient (if driven properly) and additional incentives for fuel efficient vehicles as defined by the federal ecoAUTO program (except for the "Flex-fuel Vehicle ecoAUTO Eligibility" AKA. Impala, Sebring, Monte Carlo).

Transit Oriented Development
In the mid to long term, we need to make walking, biking and mass transit the top 3 transportation priorities when developing our cities (similar to Vancouver). We need "Transit Oriented Development" (TOD) to become the standard in every city, which has a population greater than 100K people. This means that when areas are being planned for development or modified, the 3 transportation priorities above need to be on the same priority footing as providing water, sewage and electricity. We need to revamp and retrofit our existing cities to make them compatible with TOD concepts. In order for this to be successful, I believe we will need to legislate new municipal planning standards. On a related note, if our communities are designed to promote walking and biking then we can expect improvements in peoples' health to happen also.

Inter-City Transit Links
With a successful transit system growing in our major cities we should then consider high-speed rail for inter-city transportation connections; however the success of high-speed inter-city transit will depend on the success of intra-city transit systems.

Carbon Sequestration
I am pleased to hear that the Carbon Capture and Sequestration is a key element of Alberta's GHG reduction plan. I hope the Carbon Capture and Storage Task Force will take into account this province's growing expertise and past successes with this technology as surveyed by then Environment Minister Guy Boutilier in January 2006. Here is an article published by the Edmonton Journal on the matter.

Direct Hydrogen Production from Solar
Lastly, I believe we need to secure Alberta's long-term status as an energy superpower, which in 30 years will require that we broaden and diversify our energy expertise. One field we could benefit from is direct hydrogen production from solar. This process uses two solar cells, which are coated with a metal oxide (e.g. Titanium Oxide), to cause a reaction that will directly split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This technology is currently being developed in Australia, the UK and the US. I believe we should be welcoming this technology into Alberta by sponsoring R&D projects on the matter.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ACCA somewhat refocused

This is not new news, but I was anxious to hear more details on this, which did not materialize, before I publish anything because the details are sketchy. Well the Accelerated CCA was refocused in Mr. Flaherty’s budget for bitumen producers, to allow only green projects within bitumen producers to qualify for this incentive. I did not see any details in the budget as to what would be the criteria for being a “green” project for this incentive. In addition, the program may still apply for upgraders and refineries, but once again the details were sketchy on this. If someone has some insight here, please share it.

From an environmental perspective, the budget obviously boasted the existing recycled Liberal programs, and introduced the sin tax on gas-guzzlers and incentives for fuel-efficient cars. I was disappointed in the last-minute amendment to include fellow gas-guzzler Impala E85 and Monte Carlo E85 to the list of eligible cars for this incentive. The argument that this move will encourage E85 to be widely available in Canada does seem to be more political then factual to me.

I am interested in finding out how the revised Clean Air Act (if you can still call it by its original name) will play with the Federal Conservatives. I am anxious to see if this will bring strong Conservative leadership on the issue of clean air, or will if it trigger and election. Stay tuned.

If you need some light reading material to fall asleep, here is a link to the budget itself.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Green Leadership to shift Industry

With British Columbia’s new focus and stronger leadership on the environment, we are starting to see industrial shifts by some of the heaviest Greenhouse Gas emitters in BC. This Globe & Mail article describes the situation.

The later half of the article does raise concerns of a cap-and-trade system, which I have never been too much of a fan of. I would have hoped that BC would have followed Dion’s Carbon Penalty proposal where companies that emit more than their allotment of GHG emissions would pay a per ton penalty on their excess emissions. The company could then redeem a significant portion of its penalties to invest in GHG reduction initiatives. The remainder of the fund would continue to fund research & development of GHG emission reduction technologies. I have not heard too much criticism on this approach, which I find odd because there always seem to be an overwhelming amount of criticism directed towards the Liberals and Conservatives these days. However, Dion’s plan also has a form of cap-and-trade system modeled after Kyoto, but it is only one of many measures in his plan. You can review Dion’s proposal here.

The bottom line is industry will follow strong leadership, and we are seeing this in BC.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A question of Metrics: Total Greenhouse Gas emissions or Greenhouse Gas emissions intensity?

There has been great criticism of late toward using intensity-based targets to gauge our performance in reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions. This well known argument tells us that given Alberta’s growth and its seemingly endless potential, intensity-based targets would allow us to produce more Greenhouse Gas emissions.

In the world of Business Intelligence & Key Performance Indicators, we are taught that metrics are chosen so that actions and decisions, which move the metrics in the desired direction, also move the organization’s desired outcomes in the same direction. In this case, our objective is to decrease our total Greenhouse Gas emissions at the Federal and Provincial levels. If we choose to measure our performance based on Greenhouse Gas emission intensity then our actions and decisions may not produce the desired outcome.

However, our objective is also to grow the economy and generate wealth. This leads some to conclude that a ratio between these two objectives is the ideal, but the selection of metrics is seldom that simple. The reality is that emission of total Greenhouse Gases is a hard boundary that as a country and a province we must adhere to, and must learn to grow our economy within. Transitioning to this new reality will range in difficulty in each industry. The Oil Sands industry will be particularly challenging, and we will need a collaborative approach between government and industry to achieving the needed emission reductions (see here for an incentive followed by emission caps approach).

From a political perspective, an intensity-based metric has a great appeal because they can show an immediate (although purely artificial) emission reduction. Alternatively, a total emissions metric will most likely show net emission increases over the next 3-7 years before reductions are achieved under a “reasonable yet challenging” Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction plan.

The $64K question is whether we, the electorate, want to stomach more total emission increases in the short-term for significant total emission reductions in the long-term, or have the wool pulled over our eyes?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

New Alberta CO2 Pipeline: A step in the right direction

I was pleased to learn that Prime Minister Harper has signed on with Premier Stelmach’s proposed CO2 pipeline. This pipeline is a step in the right direction in reducing the Oil Sands industry’s Greenhouse Gas emissions; however, the more significant portion of the costs will lie in the Capture and Compression of this initiative. In addition, Oil Wells receiving this CO2 will likely need to be retrofitted and modernized.

More importantly, we need to ensure that in spite of high growth of the Oil Sands, total Greenhouse Gas emissions are reduced from this industry. Although Carbon Capture & Storage will significantly contribute to this objective we also need to focus on improving energy efficiency of Oil Sands extraction and upgrading.

This comes at a time when both Federal and Provincial governments are reviewing incentive programs for Oil Sands development, namely the Oil Sands Royalty Regime and the Accelerated Capital Costs Allowance programs. Providing incentives to the Oil Sands to have it reduce its total Greenhouse Gas emissions will prove to be costly given the current rate of growth this industry is experiencing. I believe that the above programs can be reformed in order to help the industry reduce its Greenhouse Gas emissions. I have elaborated on how these programs could be reformed in my initial posting below.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Green Oil Sands Royalty & ACCA programs

The Alberta provincial government has initiated a formal review of Alberta’s Oil Sands’ Royalty program. This review is expected to solicit the public for their views on the matter, which is expected to occur within April of 2007. As a private citizen of Alberta, I have prepared this paper to generate public discussion during this review process. This paper reflects my personal views alone as a private citizen.

This paper will briefly discuss the existing Royalty and Accelerated Capital Costs Allowance (ACCA) programs, today’s successes and challenges that they brought, and a look at the opportunities and challenges tomorrow. From these challenges, opportunities and successes, this paper will discuss conceptually how a revised “Green” Oil Sands Royalty program and a revised “Green” ACCA program could play a key role in developing Alberta’s Oil Sands to its fullest potential all the while lowering total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions. I invite members of the public, academia, industry and the government to engage in this discussion.

The existing royalty and ACCA programs were designed to overcome barriers associated with the high initial capital costs required for Oil Sands development and the limited knowledge base available for In-Situ and strip-mining exploitation. Coupled with high oil prices, these programs have lead to exponential growth in the industry. The Royalty program essentially allows Oil Sands companies to pay very low royalty rates (i.e. 1% as opposed to 25% of revenues to Albertans) until these companies have recouped their capital costs in profits. The ACCA program allows 100% of Oil Sands capital costs to be written off as opposed to the normal rate of 25%.

With the price of oil rising and holding consistently above US$50/bbl, the risks associated with Oil Sands development is now considered to be minimal considering that Oil Sands companies can be considered modestly profitable when the price of oil is as low as US$30-US$35/bbl. In addition with the development of several In-Situ and strip‑mining operations, the knowledge base and expertise of Oil Sands development has grown tremendously in the region meriting international recognition. Given these new realities, Albertans have been prompted to ask whether they are getting value for their resource? This paper concludes that the Oil Sands industry no longer requires such a high level of incentives offered by these programs for their development and therefore these incentives should be refocused to address the greater challenge ahead.

This question comes at a time where tremendous growth in Alberta’s conventional oil & gas industry and the Oil Sands industry has brought significant growth to Alberta’s population and tremendous demand on Alberta’s infrastructure. Excess demand for labor has further stressed Alberta’s capability of providing its services and expanding its infrastructure. Despite record provincial surpluses and eliminating the provincial debt, more revenues may be needed for Alberta to deliver its services and expand its infrastructure to meet this growth.

The future will also hold a more significant challenge. With all federal political parties committed to reducing Canada’s GHG emissions, a time will come when Alberta’s oil and gas sector including its Oil Sands industry will be required to limit its GHG emissions. Given Alberta’s Oil & Gas industry’s current limited “green” capabilities, it is unlikely that high oil production growth in the province will continue if GHG emissions are capped, and it is probable that its economy’s growth may suffer as a result of its limited capacity to deal with reducing GHG emissions.

According to recent reports, total Oil Sands production is projected to quintuple over the next 20-30 years. This increase will certainly result in a significant increase in GHG emissions. In 2006, the Oil Sands industry accounted for approximately 35Mt of Canada’s 775 Mt of CO2 equivalent emissions. The Oil Sands also present the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. As Oil Sands production increases, its GHG emissions will represent a much bigger and noticeable portion of Canada’s total GHG emissions. New technologies such as carbon capture are being introduced into industry; however, an industry-wide knowledge base is still lacking and initial capital investments pose a significant risk given the high cost of labor and materials in Alberta. Since Oil Sands companies are in close geographical proximity to each other, there may be significant cost savings if they can collaborate with each other on implementing GHG emission reducing technologies.

Given today’s civic challenges and tomorrow’s green challenges, we need to develop a plan to address these challenges in the short and long terms. Since the province of Alberta is reviewing its existing Oil Sands Royalty program, we are at a very opportune crossroads. The existing Royalty and ACCA programs have proven successful in generating investment in the Oil Sands that led to the building a rich Oil Sands development knowledge base. This paper proposes to adopt a Green Oil Sands Royalty and Green ACCA programs to entice Oil Sands companies to significantly reduce their total GHG emissions. The Green Oil Sands Royalty program would allow Oil Sands companies to invest in technologies that would significantly reduce their total GHG emissions and allow these companies to pay discounted royalty rates to the province until these “green” investment costs are recouped in profits. In addition, the Green ACCA program would allow Oil Sands companies to write off 100% of their capital costs that are used to fund GHG emissions reduction initiatives. These revised programs would also increase the Oil Sands industry’s knowledge base of GHG emissions reduction technology and help it become a world leader in this domain.

These programs would need to be followed by GHG emission caps set on Oil Sands companies 7 to 12 years after these new programs come into effect and is available to Oil Sands companies. For companies to become eligible for these programs, their GHG emission reduction initiative(s) would need to cut GHG emissions by amounts corresponding to the GHG emission caps that would follow. In order to address the current challenge of infrastructure and government service shortfall, the discounted royalty rate could rise from 1% in order to increase revenues to the province, but the new royalty rate should stay low enough to produce a meaningful incentive for Oil Sands companies.

Timely migration from the existing royalty and ACCA programs to the new Green Oil Sands Royalty and Green ACCA programs will be key to providing incentives to industry early enough for these companies to prepare for upcoming GHG emission caps. Companies deciding to not participate in the Green Oil Sands Royalty program should have their royalty rates raised to slightly lower rates than the royalty rates paid by conventional Oil & Gas companies in order to compensate for the inherent reduced profitability of the Oil Sands industry within the next 2-3 years. Similarly, companies deciding not to participate in the Green ACCA program will only be able to write off 25% of their capital costs beginning 2-3 years from now. When the GHG emissions hard caps come into effect, Oil Sands companies who produce GHG emissions exceeding their cap will need to be fined based on its excess GHG emissions.

In regards to the excess moneys produced by Oil Sands companies being fined for over‑emitting and choosing not to participate in the Green Oil Sands Royalty & ACCA programs, it should be re-invested into Research & Development that will help Alberta further cut its GHG emissions and develop clean renewable sources of energy.

Developing the GHG emissions target for the entire Oil Sands industry will be the key that will drive all other targets in the Green Oil Sands Royalty and Green ACCA programs and the GHG emissions caps that will follow. The Federal and Provincial governments must come to an agreement on how much GHG emissions the Oil Sands industry can produce, as they should for every other industry in the country. This target should then be divided among all Oil Sands companies based on their actual production capacity and quality of the product(s) they produce (e.g. light sweet crude vs. raw bitumen). The qualifying requirements for these Green programs should then be based on ensuring that the Oil Sands companies’ proposal(s) to reduce their GHG emissions can meet these targets.

I produced this paper as a starting point to introduce a new perspective on reforming the Oil Sands Royalty and ACCA programs. This is not a “take it or leave it” proposal but rather an opening statement to a discussion on how we can approach the problem of GHG emissions in the Oil Sands industry differently. I sincerely hope that this paper leads to a lot of serious discussions and contributes to a meaningful resolution to the problem of GHG emissions in the Oil Sands industry.