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Sustainability in the Energy Patch: Gaps and Burning Issues

“Even with our most vehement opponents, we generally agree with final outcomes,” says Suncor’s Peter MacConnachie. “Disagreement is more on timing or pace or sequence.”

Visiting Queen's School of Business recently to speak at the Responsible Leadership Summit, Peter MacConnachie, senior sustainability issues management specialist for Suncor Energy, sat down with QSB Insight for a conversation on the key issues in sustainability for Canada’s energy firms. In this video, MacConnachie also talks about the gap between public expectations and corporate reality, why geothermal energy likely will not be a viable option for Suncor in the foreseeable future, and how falling oil prices could have a positive effect on enterprises seeking more sustainable business models. The Summit was organized by QSB's Centre for Social Impact.

Video Highlights

0:32     An early adopter of sustainability reporting among Canada’s energy firms, Suncor has adjusted its communication strategy as the issue has gained prominence. “At Suncor we’re tying to anticipate the issues sooner and respond to them a bit quicker. There’s lots of information available but people are either not reading it or understanding it so the challenge for Suncor and other energy companies is to make information available in more bite-sized pieces.”

2:54     “We’re a large, complex energy producer. When we say we’re going to do something quickly, that may be three years, based on capital and planning and execution. But some members of the public say, Just do it! Even with our most vehement opponents, we generally agree with final outcomes. Disagreement is more on timing or pace or sequence.”

4:52     The top five sustainability issues for energy companies: building public trust in energy production; reaching consensus on carbon regulations and the proper response to climate change; reducing the volume of tailings ponds; developing ways to use less water; and identifying and deepening win-win collaborations with First Nations.

8:28     A number of years ago, MacConnachie led a team that studied the feasibility of tapping renewable geothermal energy to power in situ wells in Fort McMurray. Exploratory tests showed that wells would have to be drilled 10 kilometres deep to reach a high-temperature source of geothermal energy. “The rock, or ‘basement’ as they call it, is relatively cool” in Fort McMurray. 

10:12     Canada’s energy producers, particularly those involved in oil sands production, are looking at falling oil prices with some concern. In the short term, MacConnachie says, energy firms will likely not put on the brakes but rather take their foot off the gas of key projects. “I’m not saying falling oil prices is a good thing but it might give everyone pause to figure out how to reduce costs in general to be strong regardless of the price of oil.”