When Peter Lougheed was first elected Premier in 1971, the oil sands were still far more of a science project than a viable industry. But Lougheed’s government set out to close that gap with something called the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority, or AOSTRA. Its legacy is clear today. Thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars it put towards de-risking technologies that would make the oil sands commercially viable, like steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), it ultimately attracted many billions more in private sector investment.
Now, with the world in the midst of an energy transition, Alberta needs to summon that sort of vision and ambition again. AOSTRA 2.0 would focus on finding ways to rapidly decarbonize the oil sands operations, through carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and other technologies, in addition to developing and commercializing new uses for Alberta’s huge bitumen deposits. That work will naturally involve the large oil sands companies, who have already committed to a pathway to net-zero emissions, but the public sector has a major role to play as well.
In time, we could look back on AOSTRA 2.0 the same way we do on Lougheed’s brainchild — as a breakaway pass that helped the province fill the economic net. Alberta’s future will look dramatically different than its past. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from that past.