Calgary

Victoria mayor says oilsands tour helps broaden her perspective on energy industry

The mayor of Victoria, B.C., says after touring Alberta's oilsands in person, she has a new appreciation for the environmental standards of the industry — but it doesn't change her commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.

'There's nothing like actually standing in the field to dispel some of those myths'

Calgary Coun. Jeff Davison, left, Canada Action CEO Lynn Nellis, Cenovus communications manager Brett Harris and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps toured the Cenovus site at Foster Creek. (Canada Action)

The mayor of Victoria, B.C., says that after touring Alberta's oilsands in person, she has a new appreciation for the environmental standards of the industry — but it doesn't change her commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.

Lisa Helps joined Calgary Coun. Jeff Davison and members of the pro-energy group Canada Action on Friday to tour the Cenovus Foster Creek facility.

"It was extraordinary. I knew nothing about the sector or very little about the sector," she told the Calgary Eyeopener in a phone interview from Victoria. "I had a certain point of view going in and it was limited, and the whole point of me coming and spending the day was to broaden my mind and broaden my point of view, and that certainly did happen.… There's nothing like actually standing in the field to dispel some of those myths."

Helps spent a full day touring the steam-assisted gravity drainage oilsands project at Foster Creek, north of Cold Lake.

"We're hoping she can see for herself that all of Alberta does not look like an oilsands mine, which is one of the most egregious misrepresentations made by anti-pipeline groups," said Cody Battershill of Canada Action, a grassroots pro-energy group that organized the trip. 

"We did not cherry pick this site to be better or worse than others. It's a very balanced representative — the technology, the innovation, the ingenuity, First Nations partnership, wildlife protection, water recycling and the continuing technology that's lowering emissions."

Helps said though she was impressed, she's not about to start advocating for the oilsands.

"There are two different paradigms right now in Canada with respect to energy and fossil fuel extraction," she said.

"The paradigm that I was blessed to step into on Friday, I saw a spirit of continuous improvement. I saw hard-working people. I saw people who care passionately about the work that they're doing. I saw efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels to extract fossil fuels. I saw wastewater treatment systems that closed the loop. I saw all sorts of wonderful things in the paradigm that I visited.

"I live in a different paradigm, and that's the paradigm here in the City of Victoria and the region, and in British Columbia, where we're working really hard and we've got detailed climate leadership plans to phase completely off of fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest."

Cenovus Energy's facility at Foster Creek, northwest of Edmonton and near the Saskatchewan boundary. (Canada Action)

The visit comes after rising tensions between Alberta and B.C. over climate change and the role of energy producers.

Earlier this year, Victoria city council endorsed a potential class-action lawsuit against the oilsands industry. That motion was defeated last week at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention.

"I felt I had kind of changed my mind on that one before we got to Alberta," Helps said.

"The federal government released its report saying that Canada was warming at twice the global rate, and that combined with the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, which came out in October, makes me think that we have much better ways to spend our resources in a short time than throwing stones across the provincial border at Alberta or anyone else."

We have much better ways to spend our resources in a short time than throwing stones across the provincial border at Alberta or anyone else.- Lisa Helps. mayor of Victoria, B.C.

Battershill hopes the visit opened the mayor's eyes to the positive innovations in the Canadian oilpatch.

"We do have the highest environmental standards in the world, and they're not targeting all of the world's oil and gas producers the same way," he said.

"Canada is the only top 10 oil exporter with carbon pricing since 2007. We're also a leader in renewables, clean technology, First Nations partnership, carbon capture and storage, wind energy — there are so many things we should be proud of that we often don't talk about."

Helps said the visit was a good step toward finding common ground.

"Am I jumping from one paradigm to the other after a visit to Alberta? Absolutely not. But I have a stronger, deeper appreciation for the work that's happening there," she said.

With files from Jamie Malbeuf

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