University of Alberta prof presents findings on oil sands

Environmental Science Seminar Series examines oil sands' impact on climate change

Leach believes that while the oil sands still have a role in today’s world, we need to start moving to sustainable energy. (Howls Arts Collective/Flickr)

An Environmental Science Seminar Series on the topic of  Action on Climate Change and the Oil Sands, was held in the Ken Lepin Building on March 29.

The seminar featured  Dr. Andrew Leach, a professor from the University of Alberta, who presented findings based on his studies of the theme.

His research examined the connection between global and domestic climate change policies, anti-oil sands procedures, international monetary declarations and the viability of oil sand investments.

Leach explained that while more attention is paid to the potentially harmful impact oil sands development can render domestically, he found that particular policies that lessen market accessibility are more likely to have a material impact on global oil sands development.

During Leach’s presentation, he ran an image created by Greenpeace that explained how major policy choices surrounding the oil sands are often trivialized.

“Canada’s tar sands: destroys the planet. Green economy: saves the planet. Stopping the tar sands. A choice we have to make,” the Greenpeace image read.

Leach said that the debate has led to people making bad decisions on both sides.

“I’ve spent two to three years working on a concept known as the carbon bubble which shows the disconnection that exists between the country that participates in resource exploitation and the beliefs around climate change,” he said.

In his presentation, Leach also referenced Mark Caney, the Governor of the Bank of England, and the former Governor of the Bank of Canada, who said: “The final and most important climate change risk channel involves transition risks which could result from the adjustment towards a lower-carbon economy.”

Leach also explored the potential impact domestic and global actions on climate change can have on oil sands assets.

He introduced the four pillars of stranded asset risk in the oil sands, which include global climate change policies and induced technology and market changes, domestic climate change policy, proxy battles on issues such as market access and global access to capital and the perceived risk of long term oil sands investments.

“The world is still going to use oil, but the question is just how much. The current evidence shows that the world will not act  as aggressively on climate change yet, but some measures will be taken,” he explained.

Leach said another growing concern is the technology conversation because the change in technology induced by climate concern and energy policies have the power to shift the entire landscape.

“The world view on oil has changed tremendously because costs keep dropping and projects keep growing. That’s why I asked the oil companies if they are going to be the next coal industry,” he said.

Leach also said that in the wake of growing climate change concerns, big businesses have been placed under a ton of pressure to cooperate.

“I think the challenge for companies, governments and businesses is for them to ask themselves if they are planning for a world they expect to see or a world they would like to see,” he said.

Leach explained that oil sands are a marginal resource with the potential to be significantly affected by environmental efforts, global actions on climate policy technology and access to capital, which are likely to be the most important risks.

He insists that the problem isn’t necessarily a left versus right issue and explained that while market access and domestic energy policies are important, they are less significant than the global oil market capital.

“There can be a role for oil sands in a world acting on climate change, but we need to assess and mitigate the risks not put our heads in the sand,” he said.


UPDATED: This article was updated on Wednesday, April 4th at 12:40 p.m.

The original article had attributed the following quote to Andrew Leach:

“Stopping tar sands is a choice that we have to make because the oil economy, like Canada’s tar sands destroy the planet, while a green economy help saves it.”

This in fact was a quote directly from Greenpeace and not Leach. Leach ran a slideshow as part of his presentation that featured the quote now in the article.

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