Annesley: DiCaprio casts himself as carbon crusader

Contributed to The Calgary Herald
Janet Annesley
Vice President of Communications
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
August 28, 2014
Just before Leonardo DiCaprio headed to the Canadian oil sands, ostensibly to research a documentary on carbon, a short video narrated by the Hollywood celebrity was posted online.

In it, DiCaprio says, "we must fight to keep this carbon in the ground."

But judging by Vanity Fair reports and other media, keeping carbon in the ground apparently is to start with you and me, our economy and our lifestyle, not with him.

As has been reported, DiCaprio, during this summer's FIFA World Cup, partied on the Topaz, which is reportedly the world's fifth-largest super yacht belonging to the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. Also, DiCaprio reportedly flew in 30 guests to join him for the occasion. Yet he says, "we must fight to keep this carbon in the ground."

Don't get me wrong. There are legitimate concerns with oil sands development. The industry knows this intimately because we're working to overcome challenges - social, environmental, economic - every single day.

So, this got CAPP thinking about making our own oil sands movie, and more specifically whom we would cast as lead. (Hint: He or she looks a lot more like you and less like yacht-partying DiCaprio.)

Our star would be someone who understands that addressing global energy and environmental challenges cannot be done by simply keeping carbon in the ground, as DiCaprio suggests.

Although developing renewables must be part of the solution, it is not the only solution. Global energy demand growth means responsible development of all forms of energy is the only path forward.

On a global level, the International Energy Agency, in the New Policies Scenario in World Energy Outlook 2013, estimates world energy demand is forecast to increase 33 per cent over the next two decades, partially driven by an expanding middle class. The renewable energy supply will also increase but not in quantities sufficient to meet the rise in overall energy demand. Oil and natural gas will remain the primary source for the foreseeable future, providing 50 per cent of the world's energy needs in 2035.

Given these facts, oil sands producers believe the development of Canada's oil sands is important to meeting both domestic and international energy demand for many decades.

And we're doing so responsibly, with a keen eye on continuously improving our environmental performance.

Oil sands account for about 0.13 per cent, or about 1/1,000th, of global greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, oil sands producers recognize we must be part of the broader global solution to GHG emissions. Alberta's GHG emissions law, in place since 2007, requires industry to reduce per-barrel GHG emissions by 12 per cent over the life of a project or pay $15 per tonne into a government fund that they direct into lower-carbon technologies. To date, $398 million have been collected for this fund.

The oil sands industry has reduced per barrel GHG emissions by 28 per cent since 1990, and as we develop the resource to meet Canadian and global demand, we continue to seek emissions reductions through innovation and new technology. It is our goal to further reduce oil sands GHG emissions per barrel to be as good as or better than competing supplies in the North American market.

We apply the same rigour, guided by monitoring, sound science and ongoing research, to other parts of our industry's environmental performance. For example, oil sands companies invest billions of dollars to reduce the size of tailings ponds and the time needed to return them to sustainable landscapes. In addition to their individual projects, companies have pooled intellectual property for the collective good under Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. In 2013 alone, COSIA members contributed more than $79 million to tailings management, research and development.

We also recognize that developing capacity, supporting local businesses and working with local aboriginal communities are key to establishing and maintaining operations. More than 1,700 aboriginal employees worked in permanent jobs in the oil sands in 2010, and oil sands companies contract with aboriginal-owned businesses for upwards of $1.3 billion per year in goods and services. Over the past 14 years, aboriginal companies have earned more than $8 billion in revenue through working relationships with the oil sands industry.

While all this doesn't usually make it into the narrow Hollywood plot lines of good versus evil, it is part of the full picture we invite all, celebrities or not, to come and see for themselves.

Our energy hero is surely not one person but a collective of people who are quietly making a real difference and work on solutions for a responsible energy future.