Forest science and bioproducts in Canada’s oil sands

The FOR-C initiative: Using forest sector expertise and innovation to improve the environmental performance of natural resource development in the oil sands

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is mobilizing its capabilities in forest science and innovation to help improve the environmental performance of Canada’s natural resource sectors.

This video illustrates an innovative opportunity for cross-sector collaboration. (3 minutes, 44 seconds)

Link to video

This video illustrates an innovation opportunity for cross-sector collaboration. Duration: 3:44.

Through the new Forest and Oil and Gas Sectors Research and Collaboration (FOR-C) initiative, the CFS is enhancing interaction and cooperation between the forest sector and the oil and gas sector.

Canada’s oil and gas reserves are vast, and their extraction, domestic use and international export contribute significantly to this country’s economy. However, when oil and gas development in Canada occurs in forested areas, impacts to the environment, including biodiversity, hydrology and wildlife habitat (e.g., caribou), are unavoidable. The main goal of FOR-C is to enable the two sectors to work better together to:

  • reduce the size and impact of oil and gas development on forest ecosystems through new knowledge and integrated resource management approaches
  • enhance land reclamation strategies and techniques, and accelerate the re-establishment of healthy, resilient forest ecosystems after development
  • increase bioenergy and bioproduct use in oil and gas sector processes and products, to improve the sector’s environmental performance (for example, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions) while developing new markets for renewable forest products

FOR-C: Forest science research offers solutions to integrated resource management challenges

The CFS is making a significant contribution to the science and strategies needed to achieve integrated resource management in Canada. It is able to do this through its expertise in forest ecosystem science and in the management of disturbances, its internationally recognized research facilities and long-term research sites, the decision support tools it has developed, and its proven track record of successful collaborations and partnerships with diverse organizations.

Applied forest science research and technology are reducing the environmental impact of oil and gas activities both:

  • before development activities begin – research results can be used to plan for both future oil and gas and forestry operations in an integrated approach that minimizes and mitigates impacts on forest ecosystems, including biodiversity and wildlife habitat
  • after operations have had an impact – research results can indicate the best strategies and practices for effective and rapid forest land reclamation

FOR-C: Innovation in bioproduct development and use reduces environmental impacts

Forest biomass can be converted into a wide variety of products, beyond traditional commodity forest products such as lumber and paper.

Forestry residues (e.g., tops, branches and industrial residues such as chips and sawdust) have been a substantial biomass source for energy production by the forest industry for decades. Today, biomass energy (or “bioenergy”) has gained much wider interest as a renewable, environmentally beneficial alternative to energy from fossil fuels. For instance, in cooperation with its partners, the CFS is investigating the feasibility of using biomass to produce some of the energy needed by the oil sands industry, thereby reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of oil sands operations.

Other products made from biomass could also be useful to the oil sands industry. Biochar is one example. Derived from woody biomass, biochar can be used instead of charcoal as part of a water filtration system, to reduce chemical contaminants during bitumen processing. Woody biomass can also be used to produce cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) which, when added to drilling mud, greatly increases the efficiency of bore hole drilling processes.

The value of forest science expertise extends to other resource industries in Canada

The current focus of FOR-C activities is on the oil and gas sector’s oil sands activities. However, the knowledge gained from this work – in the use of forest biomass as a renewable energy source and in the improvement of land management and reclamation – can apply to other parts of Canada where large-scale resource operations are planned or already underway.

For example, the Canadian Forest Service is also looking to extend the benefits of FOR-C research to natural resource development activities such as mining. Collaborations such as those developing under FOR-C provide a means both to meet government priorities related to resource management, and to address industry challenges in all resource sectors.

Advancing collaboration between forest and oil and gas sectors

How can the forest sector and the oil and gas sector benefit from each other? Watch this video to learn about forest bioproduct innovations emerging from the FOR-C initiative.

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