Eleven years ago Doug Kulba, while working as a conservation and reclamation inspector with the Government of Alberta, had a thought: what if technology and innovation could be used to shrink the oil and gas sector’s environmental footprint?
Back then Kulba and a few fellow industry partners believed they could work together to answer this question. They thought they were onto something big, and that’s because they were. Their shared vision ultimately led to the development of the Evergreen Learning and Innovation Centre (Evergreen Centre).
"We wanted to create a centre where people could visit to expand their understanding of industry practices and see first-hand the innovations that are born in Alberta," Kulba says. "Our goal was to inspire others to become leaders in the quest to enhance our environmental reputation."
Thanks to donations and community support, the centre—which isn’t a physical building, but rather a network of outdoor trails—was developed on 22 acres of boreal forest, just 15 kilometres southeast of the Grande Prairie airport in 2009. Since then, around 40 innovative technologies, practices, and award-winning projects like winter tree planting, seed deployment packages, road construction on wetlands, and pipeline construction strategies have been tested and promoted there, all resulting in more environmentally friendly practices.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Until recent years, the centre was considered a hidden gem in the industry largely due to its lack of online presence. But those who discovered it, either through word of mouth or through the opportunity to visit, quickly recognized its value to the energy sector.
“When you walk through the trails, you’re surrounded by innovations like pipeline right-of-way reduction practices, caribou habitat restoration research projects and innovative watercourse crossings, all developed by industry players looking to try new things. It’s a really cool spot that keeps expanding,” says Angela Bowditch, a Grande Prairie-based engagement specialist for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) who has also facilitated school trips to the centre.
The centre continues to grow, and in fact, it recently received permission from its land donor, Evergreen Park, to expand by an additional 80 acres of wetlands. The centre has also begun to receive support through the use of creative sentencing.
“People have come from all over Canada to see and support the effort that Alberta is putting towards reducing environmental disturbance,” says Kulba. “Seeing the work that’s taking place, first-hand is incredibly motivating.”
One of a Kind
As far as Kulba is aware, there’s no other place like the Evergreen Centre in North America. That might be why so many industry partners from across Canada have visited the centre over the years, including staff from Natural Resources Canada, the National Energy Board (now the Canadian Energy Regulator), the AER, the Alberta government, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, and various energy companies and university groups.
Kulba still believes it’s important that the centre exists so that people have a place to learn and fulfill their natural curiosity, conduct research, and share practices that could benefit the industry’s ever-evolving needs.
“What I have learned through this fascinating journey, is that we all care about our environment and want to model the way forward,” says Kulba.
Check out the Evergreen Centre’s website to plan your next visit, book a tour, and learn more.
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