Energy-Ag Industry Summit Promotes Next-Gen Alberta Advantage

There was buzz in the virtual air during the recent Growing Forward Together: Energy/Ag Industry Summit, as more than 125 participants launched an important new initiative: to reimagine and reinvigorate the Alberta Advantage.

Energy and agriculture have long been the two foundations of Alberta’s economy and its two main export industries.

A shared goal of accelerating sustainable development and innovation to support the province’s hard-hit economy brought the two sectors together at the summit, noted Wendy Ell, director of strategic partnerships and industry development at JWN Energy, one of the summit’s organizers.

“The energy and agriculture sectors are collaborating, and for good reason,” Ell said. “In all sectors across the world we’re seeing an environmental awakening and this is very good.”

The summit and the programs that will continue thereafter have goals to notably improve the two sectors' focus and measurement of air, land and water impacts, at all stages of work; improve supply-chain connectivity and grow capacity of all suppliers, including Indigenous peoples; and accelerate and operationalize both old and new valuable technologies.

Organizers feel they will accomplish this through new approaches to “caring, sharing and growing together,” Ell said.

On the business front, she added, energy and ag companies, their supply chains and governments often focus on developing net-new solutions — and that may lead to environmental strategies remaining in silos.

Noted Ell: “Our collaborative approach is intended to draw out the useful intel that lies within the science and thinking that has already been generating business and societal gains for each of the sectors, and also identify where the shared gaps lie in optimizing air, land, water solutions even further.

“Learning, sharing and growing together will generate technology and communications solutions faster, cheaper and better. In the process, it will also — undoubtedly — raise Canada's profile around the world.”

The effort brought together JWN Energy, Weather Innovations and Radicle as business partners, along with Ag for Life and the Energy Futures Lab as non-profit partners. Key sponsors were Advantage Oil and Gas, Farm Credit Canada, Summit Earth, Gowlings, EY, Nutrien and Radicle.

The time is ripe for collaboration between Alberta’s energy and agriculture sectors, as criticism by some of their environmental performance increasingly leads to campaigns to directly or indirectly limit exports.

This is especially the case for the oilsands industry, as messaging on improvements in energy intensity is not resonating and the industry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise. At the same time, Premier Jason Kenney has indicated his government is open to ‘new thinking’ to support its economic recovery plan.

The summit ran for three action-packed hours and included a keynote address by Api’ soomaahka (William Singer III) from the Kainai First Nation, opening and closing plenary sessions.

During his keynote, Api’ soomaahka stressed the importance of Indigenous knowledge as an early warning system against environmental degradation, as well as a means to help mitigate against it. Indigenous peoples in Alberta have lived on their lands for thousands of years, providing them with an intimate knowledge of what is normal and what is not. As an example, he cited the disappearance of patches of sweet grass, which tend to encompass roughly an acre each, in recent years from his reserve.

Linda Coady, executive director of the Pembina Institute, led the opening plenary session, arguing the need for an integrated approach to ecosystem health as an important element for a more diversified Alberta economy.

She said financial institutions are developing a more sophisticated suite of performances metrics to make their investment and financing decisions, and the province’s energy and agriculture sectors need a consistent approach to measure aggregated outcomes across larger landscapes to prove they are meeting them.

To conserve or restore the ‘natural infrastructure’, Coady supports the use of nature-based solutions, which includes best practices and investment. To ‘seize the moment’ Alberta’s energy and agriculture sectors need to form wide ranging coalitions, including governments, NGOs, landowners, communities and Indigenous peoples, while reaching out to and learning from emerging global coalitions on resilience and innovation, she contended.

David Collyer, a board member of both Emissions Reduction Alberta and the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices — and former president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers — said the province’s energy and agriculture sectors need to continue to build their core industries while pivoting towards new opportunities that help mitigate environmental impacts, some of which will require co-operation between the two sectors. The key to both, according to Collyer, is to accelerate the pace of technological and other innovation.

It should be noted agriculture-related initiatives supported by the energy sector and others can provide local GHG offsets instead of relying on international ones, a major bone of contention about Alberta’s rising emissions, especially among most other provinces and the federal government.

Laura Kilcrease, president and CEO of Alberta Innovates, closed the session by discussing a wide range of energy and agriculture innovation projects and initiatives supported by her organization. The goal is smart agriculture and smart farms to improve efficiency, decrease the potential for fungi and disease, and mitigate environmental impacts with data-driven decisions, automation and new technology. On the energy front, Alberta Innovates focuses on projects to decrease GHG emissions and water usage and improve the cost-effectiveness of wellsite remediation efforts.

An important summit backbone were case studies presented to working sessions in the theme areas of air, water and land that were led by subject matter specialists from both sectors:

  • During the working session on air, Matt McCulloch, director of GHG for Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), catalogued his organization’s standalone and co-operative research to reduce GHG emissions and other air pollutants, including in the areas of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and hydrogen, and involvement in the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN).
  • Gary Redmond, the executive director of the West Central Airshed Society, provided data on air pollutants in Alberta, including their sources, discussed the impact of poor air quality on humans, animals and crops, while providing several best practices for improving air quality in rural areas.
  • The working session on land featured Brendan Such, a project manager with Summit Earth, discussing his company’s facilitative and integrative approach to successful environmental management for energy — and other — projects. Summit Earth’s approach is supported by data collection and analysis through the whole life of a project, allowing its partnership-based land management system to reduce environmental impacts and risks in a cost-effective manner.
  • Kimberly Cornish, executive director and founder of the Food Water Wellness Foundation, highlighted her organization’s innovative soil carbon measurement and predictive mapping system to support regenerative agriculture and domestic GHG offsets.
  • During the working session on water, Kim Sturgess, CEO and founder of WaterSMART, highlighted how Western Canada is one of the few major agricultural regions in the world with the potential to increase crop yields through 2050, when global food consumption is forecast to be substantially greater due to a big jump in population and the global middle class.
  • Karen Schuett, CEO of Livestock Water Recycling, introduced her company’s proprietary technology and system to negate the need for manure lagoons on farms, turning the manure into solid waste, liquid nutrients and drinking water instead. The treated organic waste can be sold into the renewable natural gas market for additional farm revenue, while reducing GHG emissions by 82 per cent and improving hygienic conditions to decrease the spread of fungi and disease among farm animals.

The summit was the first of a planned series of events and programs intended to draw out, accelerate and operationalize environmental, technology and process efficiencies across the energy and agriculture sectors.

Organizers are currently planning the initiative’s next steps, which includes getting the province’s forestry sector involved in the dialogue.

For more information, please contact Wendy Ell at well@glacierrig.com.