There is no question that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was where he should have been in the final days of the spring legislative sitting ... even if that place was nowhere near the legislature or even in the country.
Wall spent much of last week of the legislative sitting promoting what he called the province’s “game-changing carbon capture technology” at the annual carbon capture and storage (CCS) conference in Pittsburgh.
Of course, some will question the validity of such trips ... and not without valid reason.
The Premier’s last U.S. trip to Washington earlier in the year to promote the oilsands and sway President Barack Obama’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline was of questionable value.
For starters, Wall should have gone down with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, whose province has the biggest stake in the oilsands. Having two provincial premiers there at the same time would have been a more effective lobby.
Second, Wall’s courting of mostly Republican politicians that don’t especially get along with Obama had many inside Ottawa worried he may have been doing more harm than good.
However, a U.S. business conference on carbon capture is different. Wall should be there because Saskatchewan should have a leading role.
SaskPower is hoping by next year to start capturing as much as 90 per cent of the CO2 emissions from the Boundary Dam power station near for enhanced oil recovery in the nearby Bakken Play oilfields. The technology Wall is using is something that can be sold to what Wall described as the “large players” at the Pittsburgh conference.
The problem, however, is that Wall must do more that talk the talk to the Americans. He and government have to walk the walk on carbon capture at home. And that hasn’t been happening this year.
It’s centrepiece research project — the University of Regina’s IPAC-CO2 project that was to provide guidelines for safe carbon capture and storage — was wound down last month.
Wall explained that IPAC-CO2 had simply completed its work. In reality, the federal/provincial/private sector project has been plagued with controversy — mostly, involving over-billing and conflicts of interest involving other companies with close ties to principal players in IPAC-CO2.
This is not helpful, given that carbon capture technology is already taking it on the chin from critics as unproven with potentially worrisome consequences.
Adding to Wall’s problem selling Saskatchewan CCS to the Americans — again, a laudable goal because of U.S. concerns about Canada’s “dirty oil — is the fact that CCS development in Saskatchewan is playing second-fiddle to projects in Alberta and elsewhere.
While Alberta has also seen two of its four private-sector CCS projects — TransAlta Corp.’s Pioneer project and the Swan Hills Synfuels LP synthetic gas plant — because of economic feasible concerns, the province remains committed to CCS in a big way.
Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes said earlier this year his province would maintain its $1.3-billion commitment to its two remaining private sector projects, including one touted as the “Trans-Canada Highway” for carbon dioxide.
Because of this, it’s Alberta now getting most of the federal support for CCS.
The federal government was clearly unhappy about the mess at IPAC-CO2. And it also balked at Wall’s proposal a couple years ago for a joint Montana-Saskatchewan CCS pilot project.
Moreover, Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced a $4.7-million CO2 Solutions Inc. for a project pioneering the use of enzymes to scrub CO2 from the exhausts of natural-gas-fired steam boilers used to free the bitumen from the oilsands. The project is based in — of all places — Quebec City.
In fact, Harper’s recently announced $82 million for 55 clean energy projects — several of which advanced CCS technology. None were Saskatchewan-based.
With oil and coal so critical to the Saskatchewan economy — especially the rural economy — Wall needs to be promoting Saskatchewan CCS elsewhere.
But more needs to be happening at home.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.