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Former Syncrude Exec to Chair Expert Panel on Oil Sands Technology

Former Syncrude CEO and chairman Eric Newell has been tasked with spearheading an expert panel on the effect of energy technology on oil sands development.

The Council of Canadian Academies is convening the panel on behalf of Natural Resources Canada to do an overview of the available literature in order to report on how “new and existing technologies be used to reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands development on air, water and land.”

Newell was one of the architects of oil sands development in Alberta. In the early 1990s, he campaigned aggressively as part of the National Oil Sands Task Force, a group that sought to triple production within 25 years. The campaign was extraordinarily successful, reaching its goal within only eight years, reshaping Northern Alberta in the process.

Since retirement, Newell has served as chair of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC). The CCEMC collects funds from large facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasses per year and redistributes them to develop technologies that reduce carbon emissions. He holds honorary doctorates from University of British Columbia and University of Alberta.

Canada 2020 Panel on Carbon Taxing

This spring he appeared on a Canada 2020 panel alongside Green Party leader Elizabeth May and several others discussing how to bring carbon taxing back into the federal discussion. Although Newell has been a vocal proponent of transparent carbon pricing as an incentive for companies to lessen carbon emissions, his stance was criticized for being overly optimistic regarding the continued necessity of oil sands extraction in meeting future energy needs. 

In the past few years, the Alberta government has appointed several former oil sands executives to key positions of environmental stewardship. In 2007 the provincial government named still active Suncor Energy Inc vice-president Heather Kennedy as Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat.

“It’s not only unusual, it’s completely unacceptable,” NDP Leader Brian Mason told the Edmonton Journal. “It’s an incredible conflict of interest the likes of which I haven’t seen from this government.”

Then early this year, Premier Alison Redford named Gerry Protti, the founding president of oil industry lobby group the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, as head of the Alberta Energy Regulator. The move provoked cries of outrage from First Nations and environmental groups.

Director of Communications for the Council of Canadian Academies Cathleen Meechan stresses that Newell was chosen for his experience, not his industry connections. “We recruit people to sit on our table based on their expertise and based on their background,” she says. “They’re not invited to come to the table to represent a certain sector or stakeholder group.”

Chairs for previous panels convened by the Canadian Council of Academies have included David Strangway, a former head of geophysics for NASA, and John A Cherry, director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research.

The results of the report will be available online 24 months after the complete panel has been formed.

 

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