Government funding for oil sands R&D

Numerous provincially-funded institutes or funding envelopes have been dedicated wholly or in large part to serving the research and technology development (R&D) needs of the fossil fuel industries. A partial list includes the Alberta Research Council, the Alberta Energy Research Institute, its subsidiary, EnergyINet, the Centre for In Situ Energy, the Oil Sands Tailings Research Facility, the Centre for Oil Sands Innovation, the Energy Innovation Fund, Alberta Innovates—Technology Futures, Alberta Innovates—Energy and Environment Solutions, and the Climate Change Emissions Management Fund (now Emissions Reductions Alberta ).

Numerous research chairs in fossil-fuel-related areas of research have been created over the years in Alberta’s post-secondary institutions with funding from federal and provincial granting agencies. Many of these entail industry partnerships, and are targeted to meeting industry-identified R&D needs. A recent example is the creation of the NSERC/NEXEN Energy and CNOOC Ltd. Industrial Research Chair in Advanced In-situ Recovery Processes for Oilsands at the University of Calgary.

The CCEMC (now ERA) has already granted more than $61 million to corporations to test new steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) extraction technologies in the oil sands. It has spent over $26 million on carbon capture and storage projects. The federal government’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund has recently awarded the University of Calgary $75 million over seven years for its Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources,  and the University of Alberta the same amount for its Future Energy Systems Initiative (FESRI). The Alberta and Canadian governments are each contributing $10 million to the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC). Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) disburses a $50 million Oil and Gas Cleantech Demonstration fund to projects that are also supported by the Government of Alberta. The list of subsidies to the private sector for “clean energy,” and new extraction technologies goes on . . .

Most recently, the Alberta Government has set aside $440 million to subsidize R&D for oil sands technologies. This media statement was released December 5, 2017:

$70 million more announced for “environmentally friendly oilsands technologies,” coming from the ERA budget (May 2018). This includes $10 million for a company run by the former CEO of Shell Canada. No mention is made of GHG emission reductions in this article.

The allocation of this $70 million was announced February 6, 2019. Eight of the eleven recipients are corporations in the oil and gas sector.

in November 2017, the federal minister for Innovation, Science, and Economic Development announced $13.5 million for R&D aimed at “lower greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner methods for oil and gas mining, better energy efficiency in buildings, and other environmental and economic benefits that ensure the health of our communities.” This was matched by $15.3 million from the government of Alberta, to be administered through ERA. The list of selected projects demonstrates the heavy weighting of this investment to the oil sands sector (and to SAGD).

  • $10 million ($5 million each from federal and provincial governments) for Acceleware Ltd. to develop energy-efficient ways to explore for oil deposits;
  • $8.2 million ($3.2 million federal, $5 million provincial) for PurLucid Treatment Solutions, Inc. to develop a new process to cool steam created during oil production, reducing energy demand and lowering costs;
  • $2.4 million ($1.2 million each from federal and provincial governments) for Mariner Partners Inc. to develop software to improve energy efficiency in smart buildings;
  • $1.9 million ($982,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Calscan Solutions to develop new control systems to eliminate methane emissions from pneumatic equipment;
  • $1 million ($500,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Agar Corporation, Ltd. to develop new systems for water treatment in oil extraction operations;
  • $1 million ($500,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for waterStrider Treatment develop a new process to treat water recovered during oil and gas production;
  • $1 million ($500,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Saltworks Technologies build a water desalination plant to eliminate the freshwater needed for oil production;
  • $1 million ($500,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Forward Water Technologies to develop a new water treatment process to lower costs and reduce the need for wastewater disposal during oil production;
  • $1 million ($500,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Ground Effects Environmental Services Inc. to develop a new process to reuse water in oilfield operations and reduce the demand for freshwater;
  • $950,000 ($475,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for Fossil Water Corporation to adapt water treatment processes to reduce costs associated with the transport and disposal of wastewater produced during oil production; and
  • $322,000 ($161,000 each from federal and provincial governments) for SewerVUE Technology develop new technologies to detect failing asbestos cement pipes.

In May 2018 the federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development announced another $10 million for oil sands research, to be administered by SDTC.[ii]

[i] Sustainable Development Technology Canada,

[ii] $10 million to MEG Energy Corp. of Calgary, Alberta, which is “developing a way to improve bitumen recovery in oil sands development and production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.” $2.3 million was allocated to a company developing water treatment technology and grid-level energy storage. Government of Canada invests in world-leading clean technology innovations,” news release dated May 30, 2018,

John Lester, “Business Subsidies in Canada: Comprehensive Estimates for the Government of Canada and the Four Largest Provinces” SPP Research Paper 11: 1 (January 2018),

Shelagh Whitley et al., “G7 fossil fuel subsidy scorecard,” Policy Brief, Overseas Development Institute, UK; Natural Resources Defense Council (USA); International Institute for Sustainable Development (Canada) Oil Change International (organizations contributing research), June 2018,

Canada’s Auditor General told the federal government that it had to start tracking its subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. The Liberals initiated a study, but are now (in June 2018)  saying it may not be made public. This is not democracy.


In addition to subsidizing industry R&D, the Government of Alberta spends on advertizing campaigns to persuade Canadians and the citizens and governments of other countries that diluted bitumen and the pipelines to carry it to export markets are of critical national interest and that bitumen is a “clean” energy source. This August 2018 news report states that the Alberta Government has already spent $31 million to promote the TransMountain Pipeline. 

February 6, 2019: Government of Alberta and its Emissions Reductions Alberta corporation announce that they have awarded $70.2 million to large final emitters for projects aiming to reduce GHGs by a total of 5.3 million tonnes of CO2e by 2030.
These corporations were selected for funding:

  • Imperial Oil Limited: Kearl ConDex Flue Gas Heat and Water Recovery.
  • Lafarge Canada: Lower Carbon Fuels.
  • Suncor Energy Inc. Oil Sands: Digital Optimization using Advanced Process Control in an In Situ Facility.
  • TransCanada Energy: Supercritical CO₂ Waste Heat Recovery and Utilization Technology.
  • TAQA North Ltd.: Crossfield Gas Plant Energy Efficiency and GHG Reduction.
  • ConocoPhillips Canada: Field Pilot of Multilateral Well Technology to Reduce GHG Intensity of SAGD.
  • Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc.: Kraft Pulp Mill Flue Gas Energy Recovery.
  • Repsol Oil and Gas Canada: Demonstration of the Transition from Hydrocarbons to Inert Gas Technology for Gas Blanketing and Purge in the Gas Processing Industry.
  • Athabasca Oil Corporation: Energy Intensity Reduction through Flow Control Devices (FCD) and Non-Condensable Gas (NCG).
  • Energreen Solutions: Strathcona Works – Waste Heat to Power.
  • ENMAX Generation Portfolio Inc.: Crossfield Energy Centre Hybrid Fuel.


Alberta investing $3.7B to move oil by rail, leasing cars