Canada looks to Israel to develop oil sands technologies

At the initial call for proposals for the newly inaugurated CIEST Fund in April 2013, Henri Rothschild, left, was joined by, from left, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, Joe Oliver, then minister of natural resources, and Israeli Consul General in Toronto DJ Schneeweiss

Canadian oil sands companies are turning to Israel to help them solve technical issues related to water management, land reclamation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) announced earlier this week that it was extending associate membership to the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (CIIRDF) to help it team with Israeli high tech companies to improve its environmental performance.

“This strategic relationship will enable CIIRDF to better assess Israeli technological capabilities that could address the needs of the oil sands companies and contribute to the sustainable development of this industry,” the CIIRDF said in a statement.

“I think this is potentially huge in terms of Canada-Israel co-operation,” said CIIRDF president Henri Rothschild. COSIA companies are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on environmental issues in the coming years and CIIRDF’s role as an associate member, coupled with its ties to Israel’s chief scientist and its familiarity with Israeli high-tech industries could lead to tremendous expansion of the commercial relationship in the sector, he said.

“We’ll continue to brand Israel as a problem-solver” and “increase the presence of Israeli industry in Western Canada for years to come,” Rothschild added.

Similar sentiments were expressed in Alberta. “COSIA is delighted to welcome CIIRDF as an associate member of our alliance,” said COSIA CEO Dan Wicklum. “Through COSIA, participating companies have developed 777 technologies valued at more than $950 million to improve environmental performance in the oil sands. By combining Canadian and Israeli know-how, we can potentially develop new solutions that address our key environmental priority areas (EPAs): tailings, water, land and greenhouse gases.”

COSIA spokesperson Nicholas Brown said the organization, an alliance of 13 companies responsible for 90 per cent of oil sands production, has asked its associate members, including the CIIRDF, for help in addressing the four EPAs.

“We consider [CIIRDF] to be an innovation hub,” he said. “They’re leveraging the resources in Israel.”

As a COSIA associate member, the CIIRDF will receive detailed information on the technological specifications of the oil sands producers’ needs. “We’re going to present to COSIA members a list of Israeli proposed responses to their questions needs,” Rothschild said.

COSIA has indicated it will also listen to alternative solutions offered by Israeli companies which may not directly address their initial queries, he added.

Canadian and Israeli collaboration on innovative solutions to energy R & D matters has attracted the interest of both governments. Eighteen months ago, the Canada-Israel Energy Science and Technology Fund (CIEST)) was established under CIIRDF management to support R&D partnerships between Canada and Israel. The joint research was to focus on technologies and processes to be used to develop unconventional oil and gas resources.

Natural Resources Canada committed $5 million to the CIEST Fund over three years, with matching funds from the government of Israel on a project-by-project basis.

Six collaborative projects with contracts worth almost $30 million resulted, as well as several bilateral workshops.

COSIA representatives attended some of the workshops and heard presentations by Israeli companies about their multi-disciplinary solutions to technical problems. A suggestion was made to the CIIRDF to apply for associate membership status and the application was approved unanimously by all 13 COSIA members, Rothschild said.

COSIA was launched in March 2012,  with a roster of major players in the oil sands, including Syncrude Canada, Canadian Natural Resources, Suncor Energy and Shell Canada. The organization brings together experts to improve environmental performance in the oil sands. In addition to the 777 technologies brought into the arrangement on its inauguration, 238 projects that deal with environmental improvements have been added, with a value of $400 million, Brown said.