Canada favors tech cooperation with J'lem

‘Israel is a hotbed of innovation, technological activity,’ Canadian resources minister says before meeting with Uzi Landau.

THE ELRICK RAUDE oil rig in the Burin Sea, Canada 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE ELRICK RAUDE oil rig in the Burin Sea, Canada 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Canada’s widespread experience in natural resources regulation and development and Israel’s eminence as an innovation hub, the two countries would make ideal partners for collaborative advancement in both traditional and renewable energy fields, a Canadian minister told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We have a lot of experience in offshore drilling and governmental [procedure], and we have a lot of experience in the extraction of non-conventional oil,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said, during an interview in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon.
“Israel is a hotbed of innovation and technological activity. I think we can learn from each other. I think there’s real potential to use our presence in the resource sector to work with the Israeli government in a commercially advantageous way for both countries,” he added, stressing Canada’s commitment to the existence of the Jewish state.
Oliver, of the Conservative party, was elected to the House of Commons in 2011 and assumed his ministerial office on May 18 of that year, representing the Eglinton- Lawrence District, a district northwest – and including a portion – of Toronto. Prior to entering politics, Oliver was an investment banker, and he earned an MBA from Harvard University and both bachelors and law degrees from McGill University.
As of Monday evening, Oliver had met with Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, the solar company HelioFocus, representatives from defense electronics firm Elbit Systems, researchers at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, oil shale developers at Israel Energy Initiatives and Israel Renewable Energy Association head Eitan Parness. He had also already visited Yad Vashem, and had dinner with Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau on Monday night.
After meeting with Oliver on Monday night, the two ministers agreed to enhance their cooperation on energy security, environmental sustainability and economic development, according to Landau’s office.
Officials from both countries will seek to meet bilaterally more often, and as an initial step, Oliver and Landau may engage in reciprocal visits to Canada and Israel in order to build up their relationships in the energy sector, Landau’s office said.
Only about $1.4 billion in annual trade currently exists between Canada and Israel, a number that Oliver told the Post he hoped would increase soon.
“Now that Israel has discovered significant offshore gas and oil shale on land there are real opportunities to work together,” he said.
Natural resources make up about 10 percent of the Canadian economy – and 60-70% of that tenth is from oil and natural gas.
Canada has a 174 billion-barrel oil reserve predominantly in oil sands, the largest in world, and recently hit number two in the world in uranium production. The country is also number two or three in the world in natural gas and hydroelectricity, according to Oliver.
Meanwhile, although Canada continues to develop its expansive natural gas and oil reserves, the government has also devoted a significant effort – and $10 billion [Canadian dollars] – toward the advancement of clean and alternative energies, like wind, biomass and solar, Oliver said.
“There’s potential here,” Oliver said. “We want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”
As part of the Stephen Harper government’s overall 2012 Economic Action Plan, Oliver recently helped spearhead a policy called Responsible Resource Development, which he presented publicly at the 5th World Forum on Energy Regulation in Quebec City in May.
Responsible Resource Development is based on four main pillars – to make project reviews more predictable and timely, reduce duplication of project reviews, strengthen environmental protection and enhance consultations with Aboriginal people, according to his office.
The policy would aim to eliminate inefficiencies and place time limits on reviews, while maximizing safety and environmental protection, by introducing weighty financial penalties for violators of conditions set by reviews. The plan should become law before July 1, Oliver told the Post.
A week before presenting the Responsible Resource Development plan, Oliver had responded to a backlash from Canadian environmental groups about ongoing fossil fuel development in Canada, saying: “Extraordinary potential exists in every region of our country – natural gas in British Columbia, oil and minerals on the Prairies, the Ring of Fire in Ontario, Plan Nord in Quebec, hydro power and oil and gas in Atlantic Canada and mining in Canada’s North.”
The natural resources sector, he had explained, directly employs more than 750,000 Canadians, and is responsible for 10% of Canada’s $1.5 trillion economy and 40% of exports.
Similar to the contention around oil shale and natural gas in Israel, in Canada environmentalists are strongly fighting against the ongoing development of oil sands and natural gas reserves – what Oliver called “a huge debate.”
On Tuesday morning in Israel, environmental activists led by the Green Course movement gathered in front of the Knesset in protest of oil shale drilling by Israel Energy Initiatives – one of the companies Oliver met with – in the Adullam region. Gadi Kolker, one of the Green Course leaders, had charged that the Energy and Water Ministry was giving the oil shale firm “special treatment” and that there was a stark lack of regulations regarding oil drilling.
The way the Canadian government aims to appease both resource developers and environmentalists is through fact-based discussion, followed up by a strict regulatory system, in which an independent body performs analyses of each project – “to determine that it’s safe for Canada, safe for Canadians,” Oliver said. This will be even further regulated as soon as the Responsible Resource Development policy passes in the Senate, he added.
“That might not satisfy some of our environmental groups anyway, but what you hope is that you can have a dialogue with people,” he said.
“There are some groups that are unalterably against resource development,” Oliver added.
While the oil sands reserves are expansive, they actually only encompass one one-thousandth of arboreal forests in Canada, and only emit one one-thousandth of global emissions, according to Oliver. All of the lands are rehabilitated after extraction, he explained.
“An obligation is imposed on Canadian companies,” Oliver said. Most crucial, he said, is the idea that an outside, objective environmental review process takes place on any project before it is allowed to begin.
While Oliver stressed that green growth and therefore the continued development of renewable energies is essential, he noted that the energy economy must still largely be based on traditional energy sources – on fossil fuels – for the time being.
“You have to be rooted in the facts,” he said.
One of these facts, he explained, is that according to the International Energy Agency, energy demand will continue growing in the next two and a half decades, and conventional energy sources will remain dominant during this time.
“Alternative energy is not going to supplant conventional sources of energy for the foreseeable future. That’s just reality,” Oliver said. “That doesn’t mean that the governments shouldn’t assist in technology improvements to make alternative energy more viable, including solar and maybe wind and biomass.”
The Canadian government, for example has already invested the $10 billion [Canadian dollars] in renewable energy and energy efficiency development, as well as reducing Canada’s environmental footprint, according to Oliver.
“You don’t build an economy based on dreams,” Oliver said. “You have to have a vision, but it has to be rooted in reality.”
While his government will continue to be present in assisting research and development sites, technology and early stage development, he stressed that the government should not be “over the long-term supporting any economic form of energy.”
“At the end of the day it’s either the consumer or the taxpayer who foots the bill,” Oliver said. “It’s great to talk about these areas and to see what we can do to make the breakthroughs necessary, but it has a long way to go.”