Wanted: vision and the latest oil sands extraction methods – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – April 6, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

At 83, Clement Bowman hasn’t lost any of his vision. We’re not talking about his eyesight, but rather his dogged determination to see potential where others only see pitfalls. It’s not hard to see why Peter Lougheed tapped Mr. Bowman as the first head of the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority in 1975.

The late Alberta premier, who also came by the vision thing naturally, had founded AOSTRA a year earlier with what seemed like an impossible mission. All but a small proportion of oil sands bitumen was buried too deep to extract using existing strip-mining techniques. The big oil companies, clueless about how to get at the resource, were turning their backs on their leases.

True visionaries such as Mr. Bowman never let the negative groupthink get them down. With an initial $100-million from the Alberta Heritage Fund, AOSTRA took the lead in developing the now-universal steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology that unlocked the oil sands’ potential and brought Big Oil rushing back. Mr. Bowman got the Order of Canada, Alberta got filthy rich and the world took notice.

Fast-forward to the present and the two biggest challenges threatening the resource. Unless Canada can dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the oil sands and squeeze more value from raw bitumen, we risk environmental blacklisting and technological underdevelopment.

It only makes Mr. Bowman wish he were a few years younger. “You can’t make the argument that other countries can extract value from our resources but we can’t. If we say that, we’re doomed,” he says. “Government has to set the vision. Industry won’t do it.”

Is anyone in Ottawa or Edmonton listening?

So far, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has not followed through on her campaign promise to resuscitate AOSTRA, which faded into obscurity during the Ralph Klein era. Ms. Redford had vowed to devote $3-billion to a new AOSTRA, but last month’s provincial budget came and went without any mention of it. Let’s hope she’s not getting cold feet in the face of budget woes and the opposition Wildrose Party.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/wanted-vision-and-the-latest-oil-sands-extraction-methods/article10817255/

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