Community conversations: Pathways Alliance’s Shafak Sajid on early engagement about CCS

‘Now is the time to talk about what Indigenous engagement will look like’

By James Snell
Shafak Sajid is a senior advisor to the Pathways Alliance. Photo by James Snell for the Canadian Energy Centre

Shafak Sajid’s work with Indigenous communities is an important part of building one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in northern Alberta.  

A recipient in the Young Women in Energy (YWE) 2022 awards program, the 36-year-old is a senior advisor to the Pathways Alliance, managing Indigenous and community relations along a project corridor that stretches from the Fort McMurray region to a storage hub near Cold Lake.  

“Now is the time to talk about what Indigenous participation will look like for a project that will be up and running in 2030,” said Sajid, noting Pathways could start construction in 2026. “We are in the design stage, but we want to hear the interests of the 20-plus communities early on.”  

Pathways is comprised of Canada’s six largest oil sands producers, representing 95 per cent of oil sands production. Together they are working to achieve a goal of net zero emissions from oil sands operations by 2050 through CCS and other technologies like switching to hydrogen and electricity to power operations.   

With anticipated co-funding from Canadian governments, Pathways plans to invest $24.1 billion before 2030 on the project’s first phase – which will capture C02 from more than 20 oil sands facilities and transport it 400 kilometres by pipeline for deep underground storage near Cold Lake.  

This follows billions of dollars already invested by member companies to reduce overall emissions per barrel by 22 per cent in the last decade, says Pathways.  

Advancing the project requires that affected communities and stakeholders understand CCS technology, said Sajid, who came to Canada 11 years ago from Pakistan and holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Calgary.   

“There is a want for more information about how this is going to work – when you store C02 underground, what happens?” she said, adding there is an educational aspect to her work. “Something unique I bring to the role is bridging the gap between high-level policymaking and community level conversations.”  

Canada is already a leader in the first generation of global CCS development, where carbon emissions are captured from industrial processes and stored deep underground, according to the International CCS Knowledge Centre  

Since 2000, Canadian CCS projects have safely stored more than 47 million tonnes of CO2, or the equivalent of taking more than 10 million cars off the road.    

Sajid said there’s plenty of excitement among Indigenous people about oil sands cleantech innovation, and recognizing the project will sustain existing resource development, jobs and economic contributions.  

A Government of Canada discussion paper says oil and gas is a growing employer of Indigenous people. Since 2014, Indigenous employment in Canada’s oil and gas sector has increased by more than 20 per cent, reaching an estimated 10,400 jobs in 2020, it said.     

Spending with Indigenous-owned businesses is also rising. Oil sands producers have spent more than $5.9 billion with Indigenous businesses since 2017.  

In addition to growing Indigenous participation in oil and gas, Sajid said the future for women in energy is bright – but more work is needed to attract and retain women and increase diversity across the industry.  

“Honestly, I didn’t think twice about entering the energy industry as a woman,” said Sajid, whose father also works in the energy sector.   

According to research by the Canadian Energy Centre, nearly 31 per cent of the jobs in Canada’s oil and gas sector are held by women, while annual wages and salaries for women have increased over 30 per cent since 2009.  

The YWE awards program has showcased the contributions of more than 80 women in Alberta’s energy industry since 2014.  

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