Is global warming a flawed theory or scientific fact? Psychiatrist by day, researcher by night, author Peter Silverstone did not care to answer the question he posed as part of his rolling book launch at the Shaw House last Thursday.
For Silverstone, perception is reality, which means that even if man-made global warming is a bunk theory, bad publicity could threaten the oilsands and the future of Alberta. The idea forms the basis of his call to action in World's Greenest Oil: Turning the Oil Sands from Black to Green, released in 2010.
“We need to do something because there is a risk that we will get closed down. How big that risk is I don't know, but it's a risk,” he said before the talk.
If U.S. President Barack Obama is re-elected, he could try to make environmentalism his legacy and target the oilsands, Silverstone speculated during the talk.
Other U.S. government departments, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, advised the U.S. to consider alternatives to oilsands. Companies like the Gap and Levi Strauss announced boycotts of oilsands oil. The continuing bad publicity could turn stakeholders against the industry, he warned.
Silverstone pointed to the coal industry in the U.S., which tried to launch 230 coal plants over the last decade, of which only 20 will be built. Although there's plenty of coal in the ground, the industry has lost its “social licence,” Silverstone said.
“We run a risk of losing our social licence if we don't do something.”
Industry and government should accept reality, that steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) oilsands produce the largest quantity of greenhouse gases when compared to other methods, he said. SAGD uses natural gas to heat the steam and upgrade, resulting in more carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
Greenhouse gases refer to primarily carbon dioxide, which traps in the heat of the earth, Silverstone said.
Carbon dioxide is both naturally occurring, from volcanoes or forest fires, and man-made, from cars to industry. The natural versus man-made causes of the gas have scientists battling over whether global warming is man-made.
What matters is if the customers believe it, he said.
Silverstone proposes to change royalty rates. Royalties should reward companies that reduce greenhouse gases and penalize companies that do not, he said. The carrot and stick approach would allow companies to increase profits for using methods that reduce emissions.
The solution could be solvent assisted production, something Imperial Oil is running a pilot project on right now, or controlled underground fires, according to Silverstone.
RII North America and Devon have submitted an application to the Energy Resources Conservation Board for an experimental internal combustion project near Iron River.
Carbon capture and storage could also be part of the solution, he said.
The cost of the new technology prevents companies from pursuing it, but changing royalties could motivate companies to make the change, he said.
“I just became interested in learning the truth behind the claims made by both sides about the oilsands and from a completely independent viewpoint. I have no relationship to any oil company or to any environmental group and I don't work in the oil industry academically,” said Silverstone.