The National Hockey League continues its run of firsts at the intersection of Green and Sports. In December it announced it would, in partnership with Constellation Energy, be completely Carbon Neutral for the 2014-2015 season, the first professional sports league ever to do so. Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named the league to its National Top 100 list of the largest users of green power (it’s #17), again the first for a pro league. And, Rogers Place, the new arena of the Edmonton Oilers, scheduled to open in September 2016, will be the first Canadian NHL arena to do so with a LEED Silver certification. There is a sticky problem with this last story–Edmonton is in Alberta, the “Saudi Arabia of (incredibly sticky and especially dirty) Tar Sands Oil.” Is it the responsibility of a hockey team (ownership, fans, players) that is doing the right thing, LEED arena-wise, to advocate against Tar Sands Oil being extracted a slap shot away?
ROGERS PLACE SHOWS THE GREEN WAY AMONG CANADA’S NHL ARENAS
Rogers Place, scheduled to house the Edmonton Oilers starting with the 2016-2017 season, will be the first LEED Silver-certified NHL facility in Canada. Oilers ownership deserves credit for Rogers Places’s focus on sustainability from the planning process through construction. To date, a staggering 94.8% of waste produced during construction, or 3,469 tons, has been diverted from landfill.
Once open, Rogers Place will be a beacon of green arena operations, including :
- Smart grid technology to reduce energy consumption
- Heat recovery ventilation
- Highly insulated building envelope
- Water use reduction of up to 35%
Situated in the most densely populated neighborhood in Edmonton, Rogers Place will be served by seven (7) Light-Rail Transit (LRT) stops. Since fan transportation by car and truck represents, by far, the biggest contributor to a sports event’s carbon footprint, the Oilers are well-positioned to make a serious dent in that footprint by increasing the percentage of fans who take mass transit.
Artists rendering of Rogers Place, the future home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, scheduled to open by the start of the 2016-2017 season. It will be Canada’s first LEED Silver certified NHL arena. (Photo credit: Rogers Place).
OILERS…OR TAR SANDS-ERS?
But there is a touch of irony surrounding Rogers Place’s greenness. To be sure, the building’s design team, its builders, team ownership and the NHL should be very proud–it really is a great addition to the LEED-certified arena lineup. The irony comes in when one considers the team that will call Rogers Place home is the Oilers, and perhaps should be called the Tar Sands-ers. Let me explain:
Edmonton is in Alberta, about 300 miles north of the Montana border. It is also the city closest to the province’s fragile and ecologically vital Boreal Forests, which sit above a vast quantity of thick, sludgy, incredibly dirty tar sands oil deposits.
Aerial view of the pristine Boreal Forests in Alberta, CA. (Photo Credit: Natural Resources Defense Council)
How vast? Alberta’s tar sands are currently the biggest energy project in the world, producing 1.9 million barrels of oil a day.
How thick and sludgy? Tar sands consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a gooey mixture of sand and clay.
How dirty? To extract oil from tar sands, companies must use an energy-intensive refining process which, per Friends of the Earth, produces 3-4X more climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil extraction and destroys much of the Boreal Forest ecosystems in the process. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas for shipment overseas, has become a controversial political issue in the US due largely to the climate change impacts of tar sands oil.
Aerial view of a portion of the Canadian Boreal Forests that has been exploited for its tar sands oil. Extraction of tar sands oil is threatening the existence of this vital ecosystem. (Photo credit: Legal Planet)
SHOULD THE OILERS TAKE ON TAR SANDS?
My point here is that, while we should applaud the LEED-Silver Rogers Place, the energy saved and CO2 emissions avoided are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the emissions tar sands oil contribute. If Oilers ownership really wants to make a green impact, why not go beyond the building of Rogers Place and take a stand in opposition to tar sands oil production in Alberta and in favor of a big move to renewable energy as a replacement (solar and especially wind do very well in Alberta.) The club can engage at least a portion of its fan base and its players to do the same.
The odds of this happening now are about as slim as the odds of the Oilers winning this year’s Stanley Cup–and the club is currently mired in last place in the NHL’s Pacific Division and has the 2nd worst record in the league. Many Oilers fans work in the tar sands business. Are they going to argue against their own jobs? Or course not. Daryl Katz, the Oilers’ owner, is a contributor to the tar sands oil-friendly Conservative Party. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also a Conservative who represented Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, when in Parliament. He is pro tar sands oil in the same way George W. Bush was pro Big Oil. So this climb will be Everest-like.
But why not go big here? If we and by we, I mean hockey fans in Alberta, elsewhere in Canada and here in the US don’t pressure the Oilers (and the Calgary Flames and, for that matter, the NHL) to take an anti-tar sands/pro-renewables stance, then we all will be taking part in a passive, yet massive greenwash–“Great, new green arena but, uh, let’s look the other way on tar sands oil.”
Now, you might say, “Hey, the Oilers are doing the right thing with Rogers Place, just like the NHL is doing the right thing by going Carbon Neutral for the season and by making EPA’s Top 100 Green Power Users list. That should be enough. Something like tar sands oil–that’s too big for the Oilers, for the NHL to take on.” I respect that position but don’t agree with it. If a team, if a league is really going to use the power and the megaphone of sports to say, “we’re going to fight climate change”–then FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE!
WHAT WOULD CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHT LOOK LIKE?
For starters, the Oilers could partner with the Alberta Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA), the non-profit that “envisions an Alberta where power is supplied entirely by clean, renewable and ecologically sound sources.” They could buy RECs from Alberta renewable providers (in addition to what the league is already doing in that regard.) They could air PSA’s on their game broadcasts that encourage a move away from tar sands production.
And now is actually a good time for the the club to take an aggressive position towards green power generation and away from tar sands from both business and PR perspectives: Global oil prices continue to drop and are expected to stay relatively low for a couple of years*. This makes tar sands oil, which is expensive to produce vs. conventional oil, less sellable–the market for it has slowed over the last 6 months and that is expected to continue.
Meanwhile the cost of solar and wind production continues to drop so a shift towards renewables makes economic sense for Alberta now. The Oilers would be seen as cutting edge, forward thinkers by jumping in. New sponsors and revenue can come the Oilers way. Oh, and once the club has made a big solar bet, why not a name change–the Edmonton Solar Rays? Oilers is so 20th century! As for Katz, 2015 will be the 9th playoff-less year for his once proud franchise, his popularity is low, and so going green beyond the arena could not hurt.
Again, LET ME BE CLEAR: The Oilers deserve kudos for their part in the NHL’s groundbreaking sustainability efforts as well as for the LEED-ness of Rogers Place. I just think taking the pro-renewables/anti-tar sands oil step makes business sense for the Oilers (and, by extension, for the league) and is the right thing to do. GreenSportsBlog is happy to nudge them in that direction. What do you think?
* Global oil prices are fickle things and could spike back up but Saudi Arabia is flooding the market right now and shows no signs of turning off the spigot.
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