COSIA searches for environmental breakthroughs in the oil sands – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – April 5, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

It’s been a year since the CEOs of 12 major oil sands companies pledged in Calgary to set aside historic rivalries and collaborate to accelerate the pace of environmental improvement through a new organization, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

Over that period, the backlash against development of the Alberta-based resource has intensified, feeding off regulatory processes for new export pipelines like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, and incidents seen as contradicting the oil sands sector’s promise of responsible development like last week’s pipeline spill in Arkansas.

But Dan Wicklum, COSIA’s chief executive officer, said the environmental wins are beginning and the structure is in place for major breakthroughs.

“I have a trite saying: as scientists and engineers, we have a difficult time scheduling our breakthroughs,” Mr. Wicklum said in an interview. “But the ambition is high. When you look at the projects that we have in the pipeline, the potential is very real.”

The question is whether they are happening fast enough, are significant enough, the improvements are quantifiable, and will be well enough communicated to satisfy oil sands critics and policy makers on the cusp of major decisions in Canada, the United States and Europe this year that could either frustrate or allow further development.

Mr. Wicklum said the alliance is moving at full throttle after spending its first year getting itself organized and putting in place legal agreements to enable the sharing of intellectual property like patents, best practices and research results between member companies, as well as to ensure that each company contributes certain amounts of innovation within a time frame based on its size and stage of oil sands development.

“Good legal agreements make good collaborators, just like good fences make good neighbours,” said Mr. Wicklum, the former CFL linebacker, scientist and academic with a doctorate in aquatic ecology from the University of Montana recruited last year to get the alliance off the ground.

Already, more than 440 technologies, developed at a cost of $700-million, have been put on the table for sharing and more are expected.

Founding member companies — BP PLC, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., ConocoPhillips Co., Devon Energy Corp., Imperial Oil Ltd., Nexen Inc., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Statoil ASA, Suncor Energy Inc., Teck Resources Ltd. and Total S.A. — have offered up 70 of their best and brightest to join COSIA’s technical teams.

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