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Oil-Sands Carbon Capture Plan Faces Shortage of Skilled Workers

Canada's oil-sands industry is examining how many workers it will need to build the carbon capture system that's key to its emissions-reductions pledges.

January 24, 2023
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Canada's oil-sands industry is examining how many workers it will need to build the carbon capture system that's key to its emissions-reductions pledges. Leaders are warning that scarce skilled labor may hinder projects.

The Pathways Alliance, which includes major producers Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Cenovus Energy Inc., is studying the labor issue with other organizations. The results of this study should be available in the coming months, as stated by Pathways President Kendall Dilling in an interview.

The oil-sands industry in Canada is planning to invest C$24 billion in a carbon capture and storage system by 2030. This system is expected to reduce the industry's carbon dioxide emissions by 22 million metric tons. Some of the funding for this project is expected to come from the Canadian government. The plan includes a 400-kilometer pipeline and equipment to strip greenhouse gases from emissions.

MEG Energy Corp. Chief Executive Officer Derek Evans said that the endeavor will require more trained tradespeople than are available now, and the group may seek adjustments to Canada’s immigration rules to bring in the welders and skilled labor that’s needed. Evans said that contractors already are fretting that they’re short of the workers needed to complete annual maintenance activities at sites around Alberta this year.

Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, in millions of metric tons:

Transportation: 1,500

Industry: 2,200

Electricity: 3,000

Buildings: 1,400

Agriculture: 400

Other: 200

Evans said that the organization is already in a deficit and that more training is needed. She said that she does not know what the future holds, but that the organization needs to be prepared.

Pathways is pushing back at government plans to reduce emissions even faster for several reasons, including the labor issue. Canada’s government, which set out a new emissions-reductions plan last year, sees the potential for oil and gas producers to cut greenhouse gas pollution to 42% below 2019 levels, by the end of this decade. However, Pathways believes that this would be difficult to achieve without jeopardizing jobs in the oil and gas industry.

The oil-sands industry says it can reduce its emissions by 30% at most in the next decade.

Alex Pourbaix, CEO of Cenovus, said that they need more staff to accomplish their goals. He said that they would need to hire a lot more people in order to execute their capital plans.

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Bryan Curtis
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