World Petroleum Congress kicks off in Calgary with energy transition theme

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World Petroleum Congress kicks off in Calgary with energy transition theme
Calgary hosts the World Petroleum Congress this week. The summit brings together more than 5,000 delegates from more than 60 countries. The theme of this year’s meeting is energy transition but as Heather Yourex-West explains, this isn’t a conference about reaching climate targets.

Oil and gas leaders from around the world are meeting in Calgary for the start of the 24th World Petroleum Congress this week. The theme of the gathering this year is Energy Transition: The Path to Net Zero.

A number of heads of prominent oil and gas firms will also be at the event, including ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods and Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser.

Around 5,000 delegates from more than 100 countries are expected to attend the conference, which begins Sunday.

The conference comes as the earth has sweltered through its hottest summer ever measured in Calgary and Edmonton. And the many days filled with wildfire haze has made this the smokiest summer on record.

The Chair of the World Petroleum Council in Canada says they will be discussing what companies and countries are doing to help move towards the goal of decarbonizing existing production of oil and gas.

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“We will look at carbon capture and storage. We will look to hydrogen, methane reduction, those types of technologies. But many of the companies have since expanded into other business segments, including wind and solar, and those types of things and they’re looking at a comprehensive energy system,” said Richard Masson World Petroleum Council Canada chair.

Masson said they will being having a broad dialogue about what the energy transition means on a global basis.

“Many of the companies and countries are in the developing world where the challenges are different and greater because they don’t have adequate energy and affordable prices for their people yet, so we’re going to talk about that big picture, too, because we often think about it from a western point of view where we can just buy an electric car and we will be better off. That isn’t possible in much of the world,” Masson said.

President and CEO of the 24th world petroleum Congress Denis Painchaud said on Sunday that the industry has come together to recognize and to appreciate that we are all in this together and that we all need to tackle climate change. “It’s real it’s happening and so what can the industry do to address its contributions to climate change.”

He said that transition was not something people talked about in 2000 when the WPC was last held in Calgary.

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“They were talking about the best ways to get oil out of the ground, the most efficient and most economical ways to get it to market. Here we are talking about energy transition. How do we find a path to net zero? How do we capture or reduce emissions in a meaningful way,” said Painchaud.

The executive director of the Pembina Institute says the energy transition theme is a positive change.

“I’m hoping there’s conversations about what that means over the next five years or 10 years, and not the way some have framed it, which is by 2050 we need to get to net zero, because that’s way too far in the future,” said Chris Severson-Baker.

He added the entire world is moving away from some of the traditional uses for oil and gas and the companies that understand that are the ones that have a lot to gain.

“I feel like as Albertans we are kind of missing the signal the rest of the world is starting to send. There is going to be an end date to the demand for the products that we produce. If we were listening very carefully for that signal we would be doing things differently today than we are doing. We are trying to preserve the status quo, but really what we ought to be doing is decarbonizing the industry very quickly so as demand declines and the world puts a premium on lower carbon sources of oil and gas that we are actually competitive,” Severson-Baker said

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He will be speaking to the WPC crowd on Tuesday about how Canadians can position themselves to be in a better position in the future.

“We want to be one of the places that still supplies them with oil and gas as they are actively decarbonizing, and we also want to be supplying them products and services and sources of energy that are net zero as well,”

He hopes the report from the International Energy Agency that points to peak demand for oil and gas by 2030 is addressed at the meeting, adding companies are going to need stronger regulations to push them to reduce emissions.

“A commitment isn’t a strong enough driver for these companies to actually make those massive investments in decarbonization, and the economic incentives that are put on the table by governments aren’t enough to compel companies to make those investments either. It’s going to take all three of those things working together to actually start to see the real investments occurring,” Severson-Baker said.

In Alberta, the Pathways Alliance, which is a consortium of six companies representing 95 per cent of the oilsands production has stated its goal of working towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Masson agrees it’s going to take a combination of talented people, capital and government policies, but said it’s going to take time to move away from oil and gas.

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“We need to be able to provide viable alternatives that meet people’s needs and affordable prices reliably. So as we transition from where we are to where we are going, we need to be able to devote our energy to reducing the carbon intensity of the oil and gas we produce,”  Masson said.

“We need to be able to apply the best quality resources to existing production. We have to reduce carbon footprint while we move to other energy sources. I think it’s going to be a big topic over the course of the Congress this week.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the theme this year is incredibly important.

“I think we are at a point in time where climate denialism is not a thing.  It’s obvious to anyone who’s ever stepped outside that we have an issue.  How do we use technology to truly transform the extraction, production and delivery of energy and at the same time you have to remember two things can be true at once. We still have to provide the energy that we are producing to global markets because we are in a global situation of war and it is important that people that are in those nations are able to access energy securely, safely and at an affordable rate,”

When the WPC was held in Calgary in 2000, over a 1,000 protestors demonstrated at the event.

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A counter congress rally is planned for Sunday afternoon on Stephen Avenue Mall, and will be attended by members of Calgary Climate Hub, Fridays for Future Calgary and For Our Kids Alberta

Gondek had a message on Sunday for those planning to protest at the event.

“I think the one thing I would say to folks that are advocating for more is that’s exactly what all of us are focussed on. Status quo isn’t going to work. I think we’ve come to that realization sometime ago. It will be important for energy producers to demonstrate what they are doing and I think it’s also important for activists to listen to the message that’s been delivered.  It’s a two-way street and we have to engage with each other and make sure we are challenging each other in a way that is civil and produces results,” Gondek said.

Dr. Joe Vipond, co-chair of the Calgary Climate Hub said he’s excited that the WPC is acknowledging the climate crisis needs to be dealt with but he said more action needs to be taken.

“The concern that our organization has is that, instead of looking at the words that comes out of executives mouths, you have to look at the budgets, and to date all oil companies, especially in the last year, have reiterated their commitment to the fossil fuel world and to resisting efforts to transition,” Vipond said.

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Worsening disasters here at home and around the world are telling us we need to take action sooner, he said.

“Rarely do corporations do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts. They generally do the right thing because they are regulated to do so. So we need to have governments regulating the industry. The industry needs to be called to account, to make sure everybody knows to this point they have not been good faith actors on the climate crisis and, as such, they need to take responsibility and play a better role and that includes not lobbying the government for weaker regulations,” Vipond said.

The congress will kick off with an opening ceremony on Sunday at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, featuring a keynote address from Canada’s federal energy minister, John Wilkinson.

The rest of the conference will be concentrated at the BMO Centre, the Big Four Building and the Nutrien Centre at the Stampede grounds.

Many Alberta ministers will be at the event as well.

“Alberta is Canada’s energy province. Oil and gas will continue to be a major part of the world’s energy mix for decades to come. I believe more than ever that our province can help shape the global energy future and that is why I am delighted that we will be able to host so many global energy leaders in Calgary,” said energy and minerals minister Brian Jean.

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“We all know the importance of reaching carbon neutrality and we are all running as fast as we can to get there. Alberta is committed to cutting emissions while keeping energy secure and affordable.”

The city expects the event to generate approximately $88 million in economic value.

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