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How the West is one

Alberta oil was top of mind when a small contingent from the provincial government travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-West (CSG-West) at the end of July.

Alberta oil was top of mind when a small contingent from the provincial government travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-West (CSG-West) at the end of July.

Minister of international and intergovernmental relations Cal Dallas led the delegation, which also included Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Dave Quest and Red Deer-North MLA Mary-Anne Joblonski, who now serves as co-chair of the CSG-West Canada Relations Committee.

"This conference saw the inaugural Canada Relations Committee launched," Dallas told Pipeline News North upon his return from the meeting on August 2, adding he saw an "enhanced hunger" from the Western United States to work with Alberta - and all of Canada - on various opportunities.

"Whether that's taking a look at best practices, sharing research, perhaps looking at investments from a policy perspective, supporting commercial enterprises, policies around economic development and the like - these are the kinds of things that we talk about," said Dallas.

CSG-West is comprised of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Alberta and British Columbia are associate members, as are Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marian Islands.

"We've got a variety of messages about Alberta," Dallas said of the conversation he and his colleagues took with them to Nevada.

Opportunity was the key word, particularly in terms of the relationship between the CSG-West members and Canada.

"Whether that's energy-related, education, environment, agriculture," he continued.

"Pretty much every sector of our economy that we're involved in, we see opportunities to work together with CSG members."

However, challenges also exist.

One of those challenges concerns securing market access for Alberta oil sands bitumen, an effort that involves TransCanada's embattled Keystone XL pipeline that would ship crude to Texas refineries if approved by the federal government in the U.S.

"Clearly, in Alberta, we've got a number of challenges that these state legislators and senators have a level of influence over, and that is to do with projects that involve moving energy back and forth across the border, Keystone being the highest profile of those," said Dallas.

That underscores the value of building relationships through mechanisms such as CSG-West.

"It results in return visits," he added.

"Opportunities to show them what we're doing in the oil sands. Show them our environmental commitments and the technologies that we're deploying.

"It's all about relationships."

One of those newly developing relationships could help put minds at ease when it comes to projects along the lines of Keystone XL, as the latest CSG-West meetings featured the signing of an advanced technology memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Albert and Nevada, one that largely revolves around unmanned vehicle technologies.

It all began when representatives from the Alberta government travelled to Nevada last year for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference.

"When we got chatting with the people from the State of Nevada and also with the Nevada companies, we realized that the investments that are happening in [research and development] and the actual development of products by Alberta companies really created a complementary opportunity to work with Nevada," said Dallas.

Unmanned vehicles can be used for land, air and underwater applications.

"There's a large scale federal procurement that's in play that seeks to establish six sites in the United States for the testing and development of these types of products," Dallas continued.

"And, obviously, what is happening in Alberta could potentially enhance the State of Nevada's ability to perhaps be successful at that contract. If that were to evolve, than there would be opportunities for Alberta businesses that would go beyond where the status quo is today."

Dallas suggested there is equal enthusiasm from companies from both Alberta and Nevada around sharing information, best practices and technologies as the unmanned vehicle industry attempts to grow.

"Alberta's current contributions and emerging prominence have thrust it into a highly visible role that many are watching closely," said Michael Hagood, director of program development for energy and environment science and technology at the Idaho National Laboratory.

"Alberta's position in North America and, in particular, western North America, is extremely important as the province addresses water resources, environment, energy, agriculture, transportation, trade and workforce development," he added.

There are obstacles to be overcome, however.

"Up until today, the vast majority of the global applications are military, and we see a potential for the scope of that to change in that there's many commercial applications," Dallas explained.

One obstacle is that unmanned aerial vehicles aren't currently permitted to fly beyond the line of sight of the operator, which puts limits on their use.

"If some of the hurdles around the air space and the safety issues associated with that can be managed," said Dallas, "whether it's agriculture, infrastructure, monitoring - pipelines are a great example, I think, of the potential of using these types of vehicles to ensure safety and reliability of our pipeline infrastructure."

Dallas can see a resolution to that problem coming in the not too distant future.

"There's an evolution of technology that potentially could mitigate some of the safety risks that are associated with that," he said, adding that an important step now is establishing airspace - potentially in Southeastern Alberta - where unmanned aerial vehicles can be tested beyond line of site.

Success is that area could be great news for proponents of pipeline projects such as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway.

"The sophistication of the monitoring capability on this type of infrastructure has really advanced dramatically over the past number of years," Dallas said of oil pipelines.

"But further comfort could be provided by continuous air surveillance that would enhance further what's already a very safe piece of infrastructure."

Dallas said the trip to Nevada was a productive one, at least in terms of raising awareness of the market challenges facing Alberta and its energy sector in particular.

"We also had some very constructive meetings with the executive of CSG-West, talking about what the role for Alberta, and potentially other provinces, might be moving forward," he continued, noting Alberta was able to host the meetings last year.

"We're still not a full-fledged member of the organization," said Dallas.

"There's clearly a desire to have a conversation about how we can be more actively involved in some of the committee work that CSG-West is involved in. And, potentially, even the executive someday."

That can offer direct and indirect access to government at all levels throughout the United States.

"It's very important to continuously ensure that the message about the opportunities Alberta can offer are out there all the time," he added.

Dallas believes those issues suggest the need for not just a Canadian energy strategy, but a Western North American energy strategy, if not a strategy for all of North America.

"There are certainly discussions at the western governors level - discussions about a western energy strategy," he said.

"And the Province of Alberta has certainly submitted a presentation on our perspective of what that might look like and what the opportunities that would be presented are. Those conversations are ongoing and we have been working with a number of the state governors that are interested in advancing that.

"That particular initiative was led by Governor [Gary] Herbert out of Utah. But we've been in conservations with governors in other states and looking at those opportunities."

Dallas indicated that Alberta is keen on moving forward on that initiative and other issues with CSG-West.

"Continuous engagement at every opportunity we get," he said, discussing how to build on the work that had already been accomplished.

"We invite these individuals to participate in tours in Alberta to look at not only our oil sands development, but the economic development activities that are happening more broadly."