Suncor Energy Inc.’s first-ever chief climate officer is departing her role at the end of November, but Martha Hall Findlay says she feels “far more optimistic” than she once did that Canada’s oil and gas sector can be part of the climate change solution.
Hall Findlay joined Suncor in 2020 as chief sustainability officer, and was named the company’s chief climate officer — the first appointment of its kind by a Canadian energy company — in February of this year.
While at the company, Hall Findlay played a key role in the development of the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of major oilsands companies that have together pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions from production by 2050.
Her tenure also coincided with a rocky period for the Calgary-based energy giant, one that saw the company targeted by U.S.-based activist investor Elliott Investment Management for a string of recent operational difficulties and workplace safety incidents. Suncor’s former chief executive Mark Little resigned in July.
But while Hall Findlay acknowledged it has been an “interesting” time to be part of the Suncor executive team, she said she is retiring because of a string of personal challenges over the past two years — challenges that have included a breast cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy, and the death of her sister.
“Pathways has been my heart and soul for the last two years. I never took time off,” Hall Findlay said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s been awesome, but I’m not going to lie — I’m exhausted.”
Before joining Suncor, Hall Findlay served as the Liberal Member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Willowdale, Ont., from 2008 to 2011. She then moved to Calgary to become president and chief executive of the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think tank.
Hall Findlay said at the time, she was deeply concerned about the federal government’s negative rhetoric with respect to the oilsands industry, and believed it posed a threat to national unity.
On Wednesday, she said she believes significant progress has been made since then. Oilsands companies have a plan to get to net-zero, and have said they will spend $16.5 billion before 2030 on the first stage of a massive proposed carbon capture and storage facility near Cold Lake, Alta.
The federal government has also made its own commitment to industry in the form of an investor tax credit for carbon capture and storage projects.
A final investment decision for the Pathways carbon capture project — which would capture CO2 emissions from more than 20 oilsands facilities in northern Alberta and store them safely underground, delivering an estimated 10 million tonnes of emissions reductions per year — has not yet been made. Hall Findlay said industry still needs more government support — both from a financial and regulatory perspective.
“Part of the discussion we’re trying to have is how we can get these big projects up and running as soon as possible, because that’s important for the federal government too,” she said.
“But I’m confident we can do it. I think it’s absolutely critical not just for Alberta, not just for the industry — I think it’s critical for the country.”
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Pathways Alliance president Kendall Dilling said Hall Findlay has been an “integral and outstanding contributor” to the organization’s efforts to work collaboratively with governments and help Canada meet its climate commitments.
“While Pathways Alliance will miss Martha’s straightforward approach to communicating about the need for the oilsands industry to take a leadership role in reducing emissions, the momentum she and other company leaders have helped build will continue as we pursue our goals,” Dilling said.