Back in 2012, a group of energy companies that represented more than 90 per cent of all oil sands production came together over a shared ambition to improve environmental performance in the oil sands region. Each company was already taking great strides to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce the impact of its operations on air, land and water. They were instituting more efficient processes and developing and deploying innovative techniques and tools, which had already achieved a great deal. But they wanted to step it up a notch and they believed they could do that by adding collaboration into the mix.
COSIA was formally created on March 1, 2012 and the new organization quickly began mobilizing the world's best minds from industry, government, academia and the public to create breakthrough science and technologies. Through COSIA, members share expertise, resources, technologies and even intellectual property to go farther, faster in environmental performance. The organization was – and still is – considered to be one of the most unique models of open innovation and collaboration in the world.
COSIA talked to one of the people who was there at the beginning and instrumental in helping get the organization off the ground. Brenda Leeds Binder, QC, is Director, Oil Sands Alliance, Governance & Integration at Suncor Energy and chairs the Shareholders Steering Committee that oversees COSIA.
How were you involved with the launch of COSIA?
Starting in the fall of 2011, I was part of the team of lawyers from all founding member companies tasked with drafting the governing agreements for COSIA. My specialty area is intellectual property, which was tremendously helpful since COSIA is essentially a massive intellectual property cross-license agreement, amongst other things.
What was the impetus for this brand-new organization?
COSIA was stood up to facilitate the collaboration of Canada’s oil sands companies to work together to improve the environmental performance of our industry. If one of us lags in environmental performance, we’re all affected. We saw the importance of working together to ensure all oil sands producers had the best opportunity to raise up their environmental performance.
What have you personally got out of your involvement with COSIA over the years?
I’ve been involved with COSIA in many capacities over the last decade – first on the legal team, and more recently on the Board of Directors and now as Chair of the Shareholders Steering Committee. What I’ve always loved is the opportunity to meet and work with people from so many different companies. The level of collaboration, and the deep trusting relationships that have emerged are truly impressive.
What aspect of COSIA’s work are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about seeing what more we can do in COSIA –the sky is the limit in terms of the technology areas we can decide to collaborate on together. I believe we’re just getting started.
What do you think COSIA’s major milestones or achievements have been since 2012?
The major milestone – after standing up the initial environmental priority areas of GHG, Land, Tailings and Water in 2012 – was in 2017 when the initial legal agreements came up for renewal. In Land and Water we decided to amend the agreements after five years of collaborating to shift from a discretionary or optional sharing model to a mandatory sharing requirement, which was already being used in the Tailings area.
To me, this was indicative of the high level of trust that had been achieved between our companies after working together under the COSIA framework for five years. It was truly an accomplishment to see that shift in attitude.
What is your most memorable experience of COSIA?
Pre-Covid, after the Shareholder Steering Committee annual off-site strategy session, we have, in the past, all got together at one of those places where chefs teach you how to make a dinner. It’s a wonderful opportunity to partner up in small groups with your peers and undertake a teamwork activity outside of work. It’s social, it’s fun and the fact that people really enjoy it is a testament to the amazing relationships that have emerged amongst all of us from the different COSIA member companies and with COSIA staff.
What do you think the next 10 years will look like for COSIA and the oil sands industry?
With the emergence last year of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative by the majority of COSIA members, I’m excited by the strong alignment of these companies to reduce GHG emissions. When we have strong alignment like this, we see COSIA working extremely effectively – and I’m excited for our companies to leverage the COSIA platform to collaborate on new ways to help Canada reach its net zero ambitions.
Stay tuned for more insight into our 10th Anniversary and more highlights from our 10 years of innovation!
If you’d like to find out what we’ve achieved in that time, browse through our annual report.