Thursday, October 11, 2012 – According to a Léger Marketing poll commissioned by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), Canadians overwhelmingly support the development of the oil sands, as long as continued efforts are made to limit the associated environmental impact. Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, associate researchers at the MEI, wanted to find out what measures are actually taken by this industry to protect the environment. In a Research Paper published today, they explain the latest technological advances in the field and how those advances limit environmental damage as well as reduce production costs.
“Few people are aware that the production of a barrel of oil from the oil sands emits between 26 and 29% less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than twenty years ago, or that more than 70% of the water used in the extraction process is recycled. When they are informed about this kind of progress, a strong majority of Canadians, 71% to be precise, think that these efforts to protect the environment are significant,” explains Professor Desrochers, echoing the poll results.
This does not mean that all challenges have been resolved. The authors believe that one of the biggest irritants at the moment remains the presence of tailing ponds containing residues from the treatment of oil sands. As with most problems humans are confronted with, innovation could soon provide an answer. Several promising solutions are currently being tested to accelerate the sedimentation process and even possibly to eliminate these ponds.
Innovations have been underway in this field for several decades. Mentioning in passing that the father of the oil industry was a Canadian, the authors remind us that oil, so vilified today, allowed us to improve the quality of our lives and of our environment. For example, by replacing wood fuel with liquid fuels, we vastly improved household air quality, thus reducing the risks of chronic pulmonary diseases.
Oil resources also allowed great progress to be made in terms of transportation. This allowed horses to be removed from cities, a much greater source of urban pollution than automobile emissions. Indeed, this animal covered the roads with an average of seven litres of urine and twenty kilos of manure a day. In addition to attracting disease vectors like insects and vermin close to humans, horses caused more fatal accidents than automobiles, points out Professor Desrochers.
Moreover, oil favoured the development of long distance transportation, which helped to drastically reduce famines. Instead of depending solely on local agriculture, a region grappling with bad harvests can now buy food from another region that has produced a surplus.
The Research Paper entitled Innovation and the greening of Alberta’s oil sands was prepared by Hiroko Shimizu and Pierre Desrochers, associate researchers at the MEI. It can be consulted free of charge on our website.
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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its publications and conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.
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