Monday, January 26, 2015


As New England digs out from its latest blizzard, few recall Los Angeles' recent escape from an unseasonable heat wave that turned black asphalt roads into shimmering mirages as temperatures rose to 106 in the low winter sun.  Could that strange sight inspire the rescue of a Canadian tar sand industry even the Keystone Pipeline cannot save from oil prices in free fall?

The economic salvation of energy companies like Alberta's Suncor could be added value.  Tar sand is hardly the petroleum Texans are used to- converting frozen boreal subsoil into combustable goo, let alone free-flowing fuel entails removing carbon and adding hydrogen. But why bother with energy intensive processing when there's a traditional high added value Canadian  product that could could turn  bitumen's naturally vast viscosity into a feature rather than a bug?  

Nobody does hockey better than the great white north,  yet the national sport  has long depended on a product no more native to Canada than maple syrup is to Mexico:  rubber hockey pucks. 

Why should our northern neighbors depend on an alien product of tropical agrigulture when Alberta tar sand pioneer Rick George, President & CEO of Suncor Energy,  has  pointed to a native Canadian solution.  In March 2008, he told the World Heavy Oil Congress why the Athabasca tar sands require innovative thinking.

“Oilsands may be a hydrocarbon, but you can’t use it as a lubricant— quite the opposite: it contains minerals nearly as abrasive as diamonds. You can’t pump it—at least not without some serious technology. It’s as hard as a hockey puck in its natural state. And you can’t burn it as a fuel—countless forest fires over the millennia have failed to ignite it. The fact is, by itself, the oilsands are worthless. It has no value other than the value we create.”

While oil prices have plunged below $400 a tonne, the free market price of hockey pucks has stayed   rock solid at $19.99 a dozen. At roughly $20,000 a tonne, this amounts to a solid gold Maple Leaf for a goalie's weight in black dirt, rivaling DVD manufacture in added value. 

It is scandalous to let this valuable resource go up in smoke when a glorified waffle iron can stamp it into NHL ready hockey pucks. The fifty to one added value margin means Suncor can forego the environmentally dodgy Keystone pipeline and  sustain its profitability by pucking and trucking a mere 2% of its bitumen production into the sporting goods markets of the world - producing bitumenous bowling balls could be almost as profitable.

Innovations such as these would would not only  cut CO2 emission by 98% , making Quebec as carbon-neutral as the Vatican, but  spare the fair face of Western Canada pimpling with brimstone piles the size of ski jumps, the inevitable byproduct of convention business models for dealing with sulfur-rich tar sands.

George owes it to its stockholders to ditch the unsporting Fraser Institute and hire a real advocate of creative destruction, Canada's greatest living watermelon, duct tape guru Red  Green, to tell Suncor execs to stop pucking around, and turn tar sand mining's real bug,  deforestation, into a productive part of the renewable resource landscape. Trees now bulldozed to create tar pits could enable the horzontal integration of Suncor into a global hockey stick monopoly. 

If American libel lawyers can reinvent themselves, why not Canadian MBAs?  Inflategate already has Harvard B-School sports strategists asking why Canada can't add ounces to the throw-weight of NFL quarterbacks' pigskin bombs by filling them with heavy xenon isotopes from Ontario's Candu  reactors?