Alberta’s Industrial Heartland
Alberta's Industrial Heartland is Canada’s largest petrochemical and hydrocarbon processing centre
Alberta's Industrial Heartland (AIH) is Alberta's central location for chemical, petrochemical, and oil and gas investment. It is guided by the Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA), a non-profit organization made up of members dedicated to the sustainable development, management and promotion of the area.
The association, created in 1998, is a co-operative venture of five municipalities that share a specialized geographic zone in the Heartland region.
Neil Shelly is the executive director of AIHA. He said the members united when they saw the opportunities for development in the region, and they decided it was better to look at business attraction and planning for development as a whole.
“They recognized that this region is worth more than the sum of its individual parts,” said Shelly. “So they realized they had an opportunity to build a petrochemical cluster, where companies locate to the area.”
Shelly said the association's overall mandate is to promote sustainable development within the area. This consists of two key objectives: encouraging development in the area, and planning for the development.
Shelly said Alberta's Industrial Heartland is Canada’s largest petrochemical and hydrocarbon processing centre, and it is also home to 14 world-scale facilities responsible for 43 per cent of national basic chemical manufacturing. It covers 582 square kilometres.
“If you look at total investments on the ground right now, there is about $35 billion worth,” said Shelly.
He said the region has three major petroleum refineries, and these refineries produce 75 per cent of the motor fuel used across Western Canada.
The existing industrial base includes bitumen upgrading, petrochemical production, natural gas fractionation and processing, fertilizer production, metal refining and production of a variety of specific products.
“We don't produce a lot of oil and gas within the region itself,” said Shelly, but we are a hub of the pipeline distribution and collection network for Alberta and northern British Columbia."
Shelly noted that the starting point of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would be actually within the Heartland.
“If it goes through," he said, "it will start here and export products throughout Alberta and British Columbia, and potentially reach the Asian markets.”
Shelly said there have been some interesting shifts within the Heartland over the last few years. Potentially, the area was going to be home to eight bitumen upgrading projects.
"After the financial crisis and other pressures, coming into 2011 and 2012, there is one upgrader project—the North West Redwater Partnership—that everyone is keeping a close eye on," said Shelly.
The partnership, a deal between North West Upgrading Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Limited, is based on establishing a world-class bitumen refinery in the Heartland. The project will be built in three phases, each costing $5 billion.
Other positive opportunities include using cheap and abundant natural gas.
“Natural gas is a feedstock for a number of petrochemical processing operations,” said Shelly, “and cheap natural gas attracts investment to the area.”
Shelly said several companies are interested in tapping into utilizing the cheap natural gas to manufacture fertilizer and a variety of other petrochemical products.
“Overall, things are starting to pick back up in the area, and we are attracting a lot of potential investment,” said Shelly.
This, he said, only means good things for the communities of the Heartland.
“All five municipalities see the development in the area as very positive for the region and their citizens,” said Shelly. “Some of the big benefits include excellent career and job opportunities—opening up growth in the area.”
Gale Katchur, mayor of Fort Saskatchewan, agrees.
“The city of Fort Saskatchewan relies heavily on our industrial base,” said Katchur. "I think the city and residents embrace industry in and around our area because of the benefits that it provides—including taxes, sponsorship and jobs."
Industry supports the local businesses, said Katchur.
"Basically, we are very reliant on it," said Katchur. “For example. Dow Chemical in Fort Saskatchewan is doing a $125-million upgrade, which we have been told will be a $3-million impact right back into our businesses' pockets."
The mayor said that Fort Saskatchewan has continued to have a four to six per cent residential growth and that there is a strong need for more people for jobs in the area.
She added that Fort Saskatchewan and industry have a long history, and sustainable industrial development is par for the course.
“Everyone has to be very conscious of their environmental footprint, and we continue to work to make sure that business and citizens are working in harmony,” said Katchur. “It has taken us a lot of years and a lot of good studies to understand that we have good regulations and we can work in harmony with industry.”
Shelly said part of AIHA's management involves sustainable planning for development, and recognizing the growth pressures that it brings into the area. He said a lot of questions have been asked about how all this development will affect the environment. Planning for this comes under the framework of the Cumulative Environmental Management Program, which looks at the region as a whole.
“We have been working on these plans over the past four years, and things have changed quite a bit,” said Shelly, "but the fundamentals are there to provide a framework to help the sustainable development of the future."
Projects such as Shell's Quest Carbon Capture and Storage projects—which look at the capture, transport, injecting and storage of carbon—are underway.
AIHA follows an Eco-Industrial Master Plan Strategy that was formulated in 2008. It includes objectives dealing with land-use, risk-management and green initiatives; transportation (long-term needs); a co-ordinated municipal approach to utilities management; and social impacts such as health care, social services and crime.
The Heartland stakeholders
- City of Fort Saskatchewan
- Lamont County
- Strathcona County
- Sturgeon County
- City of Edmonton (became the fifth official municipal partner in 2010).
Associate members are members because of their proximity and potential to be affected by heartland activities. They include Bruderheim, Gibbons and Redwater.
AIHA board of directors
- Wayne Woldanski, reeve of Lamont County and vice-chair of the AIHA
- Gale Katchur, mayor of the City of Fort Saskatchewan
- Linda Osinchuk, mayor of the County of Strathcona County and chair of the AIHA·
- Ed Gibbons, councillor with the City of Edmonton
- Don Rigney, mayor of Sturgeon County and past chair of the AIHA
The region's companies, several being world scale, provide fuels, fertilizers, power, petrochemicals and more to provincial and global consumers.