Canada’s oil sands sector is cooperating on some environmental improvements

Collaboration hasn’t exactly been a byword in Canada’s oil industry. Competition is fierce over resources, because potential pay-offs are lucrative. But the idea of “shared value” creation has led Canada’s oil sands producers to agree to collaborate and share their innovations … up to a point.

The Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (Cosia) consists of 13 companies controlling 90% of the industry’s output, and is concentrating on environmental improvements in water, disposal of waste materials, greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

To make the sharing of innovations work in this traditionally competitive arena, Cosia companies signed a joint venture that precisely defines the scope within which collaboration occurs. Companies bring their innovations into a steering committee and  give other Cosia partners access to research results and loyalty-free patent use rights. As Cosia chief executive Dan Wicklum puts it: “You’ve heard the saying good fences make good neighbours. Well, here it’s good legal agreements make good collaborators.”

Set up two years ago, Cosia hasn’t yet made concrete regional and aggregate goals for progress in its four target areas for environmental improvement. Wicklum says goals are difficult to agree on but Cosia companies are taking the performance goals very seriously. “We intend to share this with the public in the very near future,” says Wicklum.

But lack of goals does not mean lack of progress. Cosia companies have thus far shared 560 technologies that cost almost C$1bn (£540m) to develop. About 190 of the most promising of the shared technologies are beginning to be applied in projects. Wicklum highlights a new way of reusing wastewater from surface mining operations as one such example.

Cosia, Wicklum says, is not meant to be a communications effort but rather a collaborative way to accelerate environmental performance. The group is seeking outreach to stakeholders with one effort, however: a new programme from Cosia called E-Tap (Environmental Technology Assessment Portal). E-Tap is not exactly crowdsourcing oil sands eco-solutions, but close.

“E-Tap is a natural evolution of finding a solution to the challenges that companies had in responding [to new technologies],” says Wicklum. “Instead of many technology providers pitching to many companies now we do that through this one Cosia process.”

This case study is featured in the recent 12-page CSR in North America briefing. You can purchase this 12-page briefing in electronic format for just $250. Contact Liam Dowd for more information.

Canada  COSIA  Keystone XL  North America briefing  oil sands  tar sands 

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