Sustainability with Syncrude: the True ‘Berta Experience

By Kyle Chankasingh

Growing up as a millennial in Alberta, I have often been subjected to a sense of cognitive dissonance towards the oil sands. Critics tend to argue that the industry is significantly contributing to climate change and destroying the planet, whereas the classic Albertan argument is that oil industry is necessary to provide jobs to many Canadians. How are we, as a generation, supposed to feel about an industry that we have been told is threatening the well-being of future generations, yet is also the literal foundation of Alberta’s economy?

This question, combined with my interest in climate change and sustainability, is what drove my desire to intern for Syncrude the moment that the former PLLC Vice Principal, Dr. Ferguson-Pell, recommended it. My interest in the environment was something that I never got the opportunity to pursue, and although it may seem counterintuitive to intern at an oil and gas company, my time so far with Syncrude has taught me a lot.

Of the two major projects that I have been working on, one has involved analyzing the policies and relationships that Syncrude has with various stakeholders and whether their actions are aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. My second project has been examining the greenhouse gas emissions of the various processes needed for Syncrude to produce oil, and subsequently, how new technologies will impact the intensity of emissions. So far, my work has taken me around Alberta from Calgary to Fort McMurray, and I even got the opportunity to tour one of Syncrude’s mines to see first-hand what the industry entailed. I got to see a major land reclamation project undergone by the company and it honestly blew my mind to witness the extent to which mines can be restored to their previous state.

Not only have these projects stretched me beyond the knowledge base of my degree, they have also helped me to push beyond reinforced biases I have held towards the industry. The conversations I’ve had with several leaders in the company have helped change the way I think about the industry, as well as how change is implemented in the world. As one of the members of the research team put it “it is much easier to induce the change of organization from within.” My work has showed me that companies like Syncrude, as well as the leaders within the organization, are aware of the impact that their work has on the planet and are actively working towards reducing their impact through projects such as greenhouse gas emission reductions and increased land reclamation efforts.

After my stretch experience, I’m looking forward to engaging in discussions about oil with a much more open mind, and given the age of carbon taxes and pipelines that we currently reside in, knowing how to navigate heated political conversations both openly and intelligibly is crucial.


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