It’s Time to Talk About Oil & Gas—Without the Yelling

Chris Slubicki

“It’s time to start a rational and informed conversation,” says Chris Slubicki.

It’s a refreshing appeal for calm amidst the increasingly combative battle cries of already polarized energy activists.

Such incendiary language serves only to burn bridges and builds nothing.

“We need to have a rational discussion,” repeats Slubicki. His pleas sounding a little more fraught as he continues on. And rightfully so. As CEO of Modern Resources, an Alberta-based energy company, Chris Slubicki is heavily invested in Canada’s energy sector

And our energy sector is in dire straits. With record low oil prices and troubles bringing Canadian oil to market, investors are wary about the industry’s future. According to Slubicki, this capital flight in the energy sector is compounded by stifling regulations that hold up energy projects and discourage exploration in the energy sector.

This warning is echoed by Mark Scholz, CEO of CAODC (Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors), who explains, “if we do not create an environment where the oil and gas industry can compete internationally, we won’t have an industry left in this country.”

But it’s not just foreign companies that are feeling discouraged, many Canadian energy companies are struggling under our domestic energy policies.

In western Canada oil is exported at a discounted rate to the US while in eastern Canada oil is imported at world prices.  As a result, energy companies are struggling to maintain their operations. Just recently, Alberta has seen the number of orphan wells (i.e. oil wells with no viable owner) have skyrocketed, jumping from 162 abandoned wells just four years ago to almost 8000 wells currently orphaned wells.

It seems pretty obvious that if Canada wants our energy sector to remain competitive something needs to happen.

So, given all the troubles facing the energy industry, “Why can’t we have a rational informed discussion on energy?” asks Slubicki, one of the few voices still appealing for calm.

It’s a hard question with no easy answer. The debate is full of critics who know what they don’t want, but struggle to articulate any real plausible solution. This isn’t overly surprising, in debate, as in life, it is always easier to destroy than to create; to plan an attack rather than develop a defense.

But Slubicki sees this as a destructive path that will end only in mutual disappointment. Too many big, industry changing ideas are tossed around without deep awareness of their larger repercussions. Phasing out oil production in Alberta is no more plausible than forcing First Nations communities to unconditionally surrender their land for a pipeline, particularly in a time of reconciliation.

Instead, this energy company CEO is taking a brave step forward by trying to build a modest and actionable proposal.

He calls it Plan B—it’s nobody’s first choice.  It’s a compromise, and like most compromises, it falls short of what both sides are asking; but like most compromises, everybody gets something as we take a small step closer to finding a larger solution.

Slubicki’s Plan B in Bullets

  • Invest in efficiency improvements across the entire energy spectrum
    • Drive smaller cars, follow better building standards and embrace energy efficient tech
  • Replace emissions sources with lower emission sources where technology allows
    • Replace coal plants with natural gas
    • Build renewables where it makes sense
  • Build energy resources & infrastructure in Canada to the highest standards in the world
    • With First Nations consultation
  • Export Canadian energy best practices to help other nations reduce greenhouse gases
    • Export Canada’s green technology and knowledge
  • Invest in additional technology to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations
    • Develop and export Canada’s green technology

Plan B isn’t going to solve our energy crisis or eliminate the threat of climate change, but that’s not the point. The point is to find something, anything, that everyone can support. These proposals are modest enough that even the dastardliest oil executive couldn’t refute them while efficacious enough to have a real environmental impact which should please our green activists.

Slubicki is trying to create some common ground that everyone can support, regardless of one’s stance on energy or climate. By starting with small reasonable goals both sides can agree on, the hope is that we can move forward with real actionable change, instead of remaining bitter and cynical within our increasingly polarized camps.


Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is an alliance of energy producers working together to find solutions to the environmental challenges of oil sands development through innovation and collaborative action. Formed in 2012 and now led by Chief Executive Wes Jickling, the organization is guiding innovation and technological development for the sector. “There is no other organization like COSIA,” says Jickling. “Made up of oil sands companies representing more than 90 per cent of Canada’s oil sands production, COSIA is the place where intellectual property, experts, technology and laboratories are shared to advance environmental performance in the sector.” This world-leading collaboration is unheard of elsewhere—typically, companies of this size don’t collaborate.

Air Company Team from Brooklyn, NY testing their technology to convert CO2 into ethanol. Photo courtesy of XPrize.

Through COSIA oil sands producers have identified four Environmental Priority Areas (EPAs): GHGs, water, land and tailings. Set side by side with oil sands companies, COSIA brings together researchers, academics and experts to identify ways to improve performance and accelerate the creation and adoption of transformational technology. To date, their work has made significant strides in oil sands’ environmental performance. “We’ve seen a 21 per cent reduction in GHGs emission per barrel from 2009 to 2017,” says Jickling. “As well, fresh water usage at in situ operations has declined by 42 per cent.”

COSIA’s systematic, collaborative approach to identify gaps and tackle global challenges has also led to the launch of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE initiative. The $20 million Carbon XPRIZE competition started in 2015 to encourage the development of technologies that convert waste CO2 into valuable and usable products like building materials and alternative fuels. The Carbon XPRIZE has entered the final stage this year, in which five teams in the natural gas track will have to prove that their proposed technology can minimize the use of energy, water, land, CO2 emissions and other variables that impact sustainability.

“The five finalists will have until this summer to demonstrate working pilot systems, with announcement of the winning team coming in fall 2020,” says Jickling. “In addition to the Carbon XPRIZE, we also encourage innovation in oil sands environmental performance through Innovation Opportunities, where we receive and evaluate proposals for research and technology solutions. For COSIA, it’s all about bringing the best and brightest together to solve oil sands challenges that benefit us all.”

To learn more about COSIA, visit cosia.ca.