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Public engagement sessions on potential carbon capture project start of a long process

Pathways Alliance concluded its first set of information sessions last week in St. Paul and Glendon on Nov. 1 and 2 regarding a large, proposed carbon capture storage (CCS) project in the Lakeland.

ST. PAUL – Pathways Alliance concluded its first set of information sessions last week in St. Paul and Glendon on Nov. 1 and 2 regarding a large, proposed carbon capture storage (CCS) project in the Lakeland. 

Pathways Alliance is a consortium of Canada’s largest oilsands companies. The group plans to construct an estimated $16 billion carbon pipeline and underground storage hub, connecting over 20 oil sands facilities in the Fort McMurray, Christina Lake and Cold Lake regions, to a carbon storage hub in Cold Lake. 

A portion of the of the proposed project’s transportation line is being proposed to be located within the County of St. Paul. During Pathways Alliance’s Nov. 1 information session in St. Paul, groundwater contamination was among the biggest concerns from residents. 

Amil Shapka, a resident from the St. Paul area, says that as a rural landowner, his concerns remain unchanged. Shapka is also a member of ‘No to CO2,’ a group of residents in the region that describes itself as a grassroots, non-partisan group, concerned with protecting their land and quality of life, and defending the public interest. 

‘No to CO2’ hosted an information session at Lac Bellevue Hall in August of this year, focused on Alliance’s proposed CCS project, where Shapka talked about his concerns. 

“We all want to be reassured that groundwater is not going to be affected,” in the event of a pipeline rupture, for example, says Shapka. "And I think the biggest thing I find most unsettling... is that this is permanent.”  

Shapka also wondered about the funding of the project, of how much it could potentially cost taxpayers. He said he was happy to see both Town and County residents at the information session last week, showing interest in the project.  

"People ultimately are going to have to make their own decisions and live with them." 

Russ Kowtun, a local resident and farmer, said groundwater contamination is also his biggest concern. Preservation of groundwater is essential for future generations, he believes.  

“It’s not worth the gamble.” 

Kowtun says he understands Pathways Alliance is talking about ways to ensure there is no possibility of a rupture, but in the event that something happens like a contamination, “How do you correct them? What do you do?” 

For Doug Zarowny, another area resident, he acknowledges, “My answer is biased. I’m gainfully employed in oil and gas. I’m for carbon capture as it will extend the longevity of this industry in the province.” 

Zarowny believes the project will bring investment, jobs and tax revenue.  

“I see this as good fortune for the Town [of St. Paul] and County [of St. Paul].” 

He added, “I live close to where the line is proposed. I’m not worried about its safety. The engineers working on this are smart people who have done it before.” 

Bernie Poitras of Elk Point, and also the first district captain of Métis District 12 St. Paul-Cold Lake with the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA), said he was hoping to find out more about the project, and the potential it has for employment in the region. 

“I think it’s going to employ a lot of people,” but, “I don't think there's any local company here big enough to handle it. But there definitely is some subcontracting work that can be done with the local companies in the area.”  

Poitras added he hopes to sit down with Pathway Alliance sometime in the future to discuss the project further. 

Concerns heard beyond the Lakeland 

The proposed CCS project has also garnered the attention of the environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defense Canada (EDC). 

Julia Levin, the Associate Director of Environmental Defense Canada, asked what her biggest concern is regarding the project, said in a Nov. 1 statement to Lakeland This Week that CCS projects like Pathways Alliance’s proposal comes with “huge risks for communities in the vicinity.” 

She said previous carbon pipeline ruptures led to “hundreds of community members being evacuated and dozens requiring hospitalization after suffering from asphyxiation from the leaked carbon dioxide.”  

She added, “The Pathways Alliance is made up of the wealthiest oil and gas companies in Canada. Albertans should not be on the hook financially, either for constructing the project or for cleaning up the mess that gets made." 

In a Nov. 2 statement to Lakeland This Week in response to EDC’s statement, Kendall Dilling, president of Pathways Alliance, said the Alliance understands why people close to any proposed major infrastructure projects would want operation and safety assurances. 

He said engineers and geologists must consider and plan for all possible safety scenarios – from the planning stage to the full life of the network. 

According to Dilling, the Alliance’s proposed network “will have a multi-layered safety system based on decades of technical experience and scientific research,” that will be assessed and must be approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), “and will follow all monitoring and safety assurance requirements.” AER’s approval process might take a year. 

Dilling also said in a separate Nov. 2 follow-up interview, that the Alliance carefully selected the project area based on geological attributes that minimize the possibility of issues like CO2 leakage and groundwater contamination. It’s located approximately 1600-meters deep, well below groundwater aquifers and other oil and gas developments, he said. 

The Basal Cambrian Sandstone geological formation, spanning hundreds of kilometres in Alberta, is ideal as a CO2 reservoir, he said, explaining the formation has multiple layers of cap rock, ensuring CO2 is permanently sealed deep underground and reduces the likelihood of issues occurring. 

Pathways Alliance will use “well-designed technologies and monitoring and response technologies,” said Dilling. 

“Even though we've selected an area where we think the likelihood of any of those things happening is very, very low, we always plan for the worst, and so that we will also have all the procedures in place to deal with it. 


When asked about funding, Dilling said the Alliance is working closely with governments to establish a fiscal framework that will enable the necessary capital to be raised and invested in the CCS project. 

The oil sands industry, on average, pays $20 billion a year to governments in taxes and royalties, according to Dilling. “The whole point of this project, is of course, to sustain the oil sands business and make it relevant in a low-carbon future for decades to come and ensure that we continue to provide that kind of benefits to Albertans and Canadians.” 

The idea is for a small portion of that $20 billion to be reinvested back into the industry like the Alliance’s CCS project, to support decarbonization efforts and ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry, said Dilling.  

The information sessions in Cold Lake, St. Paul, and Glendon were just the beginning of a long process, he said. “This is far from the last time we will be here. It's really the beginning of a dialogue.” 

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