Canadian company claims it can make oil sands "green"

N-SolvCorp, a small Canadian company based in Calgary, claims it has developed a unique technology that will make Alberta's oil sands unquestionably "green."

Founder John Nenniger told The Tyee.ca that the technology would not only help provincial and Canadian economies, but the oil sands producers as well.

"There's this cliché that the environment is tugging in one direction and economics are taking you in another," he said, adding that instead of the bitter "pro-oil" vs. "pro-environment" divide, technologies like the one his company is promoting will virtually eliminate water usage and carbon emissions for new oil sands operations, making them twice as lucrative.

In a recent poll by Nanos, Canadians said that minimizing the environmental impact of the oil sands was more important than maximizing economic prosperity.

Despite its key part in the global energy supply, Canadians acknowledge the serious environmental problems that come with producing oil from oil sands.

The largest production sites are usually huge mine pits accompanied by ponds of waste so toxic that companies try to frighten birds away with scarecrows and propane cannons.

Extracting oil from the sands produces more greenhouse gases than conventional extraction, environmental groups say, as the process requires three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced to wash the dirt out. Already, tailing pools cover 50 square miles of land abutting the Athabasca River.

The mines are also carving gashes in the world’s largest intact forest, which serves as a vital absorber of carbon dioxide and a stopover point for millions of migrating birds.

Aware of the environmental concerns raised by its oil sand mining operations and of the social impact of these activities, the Alberta Government has taken several restrictive and preventive measures.

In 2010, it published a 20-year strategic plan that aims to provide an integrated and coordinated policy approach to managing the oil sands responsibly. With this strategic plan, Alberta hopes to optimize development and economic revenue from the oil sands, while minimizing the environmental footprint.

However, a report published early June by Deloitte & Touche LLP warns Canada’s shift in research and development (R&D) policies – more grants and fewer tax breaks – is jeopardizing the future of its oil sands industry.