Exploration has always been at the heart of resource development in Alberta, yet only a few years ago industry and government leaders were questioning whether it even had a future in the province. Fast forward to 2011, and the Alberta Chamber of Resources’ Task Force on Resource Development & the Economy has found that past predictions could not be further from the truth.
Established in 2009, the task force looked at the resource sector’s historical impacts and assessed the future potential for resource development in Alberta. It found that the province is nowhere near the end of its conventional oil and gas reserves, due primarily to new technologies that have extended production horizons by decades.
It is estimated that hundreds of years of bitumen and coal production lie ahead. Forest management and sustainability practices have resulted in a renewable resource base, which is satisfying the growing global demand for wood and fibre. Waiting to be discovered and quantified is a diversified basket of industrial minerals, including iron, potash, lithium, titanium, uranium and diamonds.
Along with Robert Mansell, an eminent resource economist from the University of Calgary, the task force documented how resource sectors have been the mainstays of Alberta’s economy. Over the past 10 years, resource development has generated 62 per cent of Alberta’s GDP and 50 per cent of employment. Nationally, the sector is the largest net contributor to Canada’s favourable trade balance and accounts for one-quarter of all Canadian business profits. Resource development requires smart, highly skilled workers, including engineers, technologists and tradespeople who bring home significantly above-average incomes.
The report’s most encouraging finding is a simple confirmation: that there is a future for resource development and it will continue to drive our economy. For those of us who work in the industry, we can feel confident that we are making a difference for future generations. Wise government policies and smart corporate strategies have the potential to add an incremental $700 billion in Alberta’s GDP and almost four million incremental person years of employment in the next decade. The social benefits should not be forgotten: in 2007, the oil and gas sector alone paid almost $60 billion to Canadian governments, resulting in more funding for social infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads, which contribute greatly to our quality of life.
The stereotype of “hewers of wood and drawers of oil” is gradually being supplanted by the realization that the resource sectors of the 21st century are characterized by the sophistication of business and technology. By focusing on innovation and productivity, resource companies are able to reduce impacts on the environment, extend the life of resources and generate social and economic benefits for future generations of Albertans, and Canadians in general.
While I was at the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority in the mid-1980s, we were determined to find a way to tap into the deep reserves of bitumen. Ideas and creativity certainly played a role in our research; however, it was the courage of our convictions that truly made the difference in the creation of a new technology called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). The same can be said for the next decade of resource development. The future is not limited by the reserves in the ground, but rather by the limitations of our imagination, innovation and stewardship.
If you are interested to learn more about the task force and the recommendations for industry and government to achieve the potential that exists in resource development over the next decade, visit www.acralberta. com.
Brad Anderson is the executive director of Alberta Chamber of Resources.