Former Suncor CEO concerned about heavy oil’s image
BY KURT ABRAHAM, Executive Editor
ST. JOHN'S -- The public reputation of heavy oil is on the line, and the upstream industry has been too slow to defend it, said former Suncor CEO Rick George. As the keynote speaker for SPE’s Heavy Oil Conference–Canada, George said that he takes some of the blame for not acting quickly enough to defend the industry and its environmental track record. However, he fine-tuned that statement, saying that he also believes that the Canadian industry’s environmental record is better than that of the U.S.
The SPE conference has been held this week, simultaneously with the Gas and Oil Expo at Calgary’s Stampede grounds. “We have a real issue around the image of this industry worldwide,” said George, who retired last year after 20 years as Suncor’s CEO. He added that he was thankful that the industry is not as unpopular as politicians or bankers, although he thinks it’s not far behind them.
Infrastructure problems, particularly the inability to move greater amounts of crude, are going to be solved by the industry, said George, even if it means using somewhat costly rail and/or truck transportation to move crude to buyers. What isn’t as easy to solve, he added, is what he believes is Canada’s status among the public (particularly in the U.S.) as a nation that doesn’t care about the environment. This is causing roadblocks to be thrown up against important projects, George maintained, such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I think the industry was very slow to respond to outside forces; environmentalists and other detractors from our industry established an agenda with a very loose set of facts,” said George. He noted that many managers in the industry thought that merely presenting the actual facts on upstream issues in a logical manner would carry the day with the public. That has not happened. “Most of the people that run these big companies in our industry are engineers; it was with some disbelief that we felt the public didn’t understand the facts of the case.” And, of course, any attempt by industry companies to rectify the situation were seen by the public as too little, too late.
George was recently named chairman of the board of directors of Osum Oil Sands. He also serves on the boards of The Royal Bank of Canada and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.