Digging Into Oil Sands Divestment

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Have some oil sands made significant progress in reducing CO2 emissions, as the Alberta government said?

It depends on how you define "significant". Joule Bergerson, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary, told me that she had noticed a decrease in carbon intensity – the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of energy extracted – in the range of 15 to 20 percent

The companies themselves state that they have made significant reductions. Cenovus told me in a statement that his greenhouse gas intensity had dropped 30 percent in 15 years. Suncor said in a statement that the emission intensity at its oil sands base facility has dropped by more than 60 percent since 1990.

Dr. Bergerson added, however, that reductions to the extent observed so far are not required to change investors' opinions about the ending of the oil sands, as most of these projects are still well above the global average for carbon intensity. As she put it, "these companies are really trying to put their money where their mouths are to develop new technologies." Still, it is unclear whether they will be able to cut emissions to the point where other investors are convinced not to leave.

How willing were the people in the industry and the Canadian financial community to speak to them?

I was surprised at how difficult it was to get Canadian investors and oil sands companies to speak to me. Apart from the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec, none of the major pension funds agreed to my requests for interviews. The largest oil sands companies also declined my requests for interviews, although some agreed to answer written questions.

When I mentioned this to the people I spoke to, many of whom asked not to be identified, the explanation was that no one wants to be the next one to be targeted by the Prime Minister's office. I would have asked Mr. Kenney about it, but his office refused my request for an interview.

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