Pembina Institute

Our Pembina story...

It began in October 1982 with the worst sour gas incident in Canadian history - the Amoco Lodgepole Blowout, outside Drayton Valley in west Central Alberta (click to read our story).

Marked by an unmistakable rotten egg-like smell, deadly hydrogen sulphide spewed across the countryside reaching as far as Saskatchewan.  Some residents and livestock were evacuated, those who weren't were exposed to a suite of toxic gases causing many to fall ill. 

A group of school teachers, farmers and 250 other concerned citizens banded together to ensure such an accident would never happen again. They forced a public inquiry and secured more than 80 regulatory changes.

From this early success, the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development was formed in 1984 and incorporated in 1985. Founders, including Rob Macintosh and Wally Heinrichs, shared interests in peace, human rights, nuclear disarmament, international development, clean technology and the environment.

The name was deliberately chosen, denoting: local roots in the Pembina oilfield and along the Pembina River, a basis in well-grounded research with Institute, a position for solutions as opposed to against issues, and a focus on environmentally and socially appropriate development just before sustainable development was popularized by Gro Harlem Brundtland.

In the first decade, a small staff core worked with volunteers to reduce sulphur emissions in gas plants, fight Apartheid, develop a federal green plan and help create the new Alberta Environmental Protection Act.

Over time, Pembina narrowed its focus to energy and the environment, and added technical engineering, scientific and economic depth to the broad policy expertise of the organization. The group consistently pushed the envelope in terms of best practices, frequently publicizing issues, but also always eager to work collaboratively in processes such as the Clean Air Strategic Alliance towards solutions.

By the later 1990s the Pembina Institute, with a staff near 30 strong, was providing consulting services to clients as wide-ranging as TransAlta Utilities, BC Hydro and Suncor, First Nations, government and environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation.

The current Executive Director Dr. Marlo Raynolds, joined the team and helped build an entire practice of cradle-to-grave product and process analysis and design known as Life Cycle Value Assessment.

Mary GWhen the Oilpatch Comes 
to Your Backyardriffith's "When the Oilpatch Comes to Your Backyard," published in 2001, is symbolic of the Pembina persona. The guide was designed to help landowners better represent their own interests and the interests of the environment. And because of the work Griffiths did with industry, all stakeholders including industry, positively received the guide.

In the 1990s, Pembina embarked into new realms: the Internet, green economics and climate change. The organization created a renowned website called Climate Change Solutions, as well as nationally-leading environmental education resources for high school students. It also launched serious climate change research and advocacy arm that was headed up by Robert Hornung, the current President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, and later led by the inimitable Dr. Matthew Bramley.

Pembina's work on oil issues evolved to respond to the ever-growing environmental concerns surrounding oil sands development. With the addition of a communications team, the oilsands team published research into the environmental impacts of oilsands in reports, fact sheets and on the web - work that has been featured in the media, classrooms, books and films around the world. By 2010, downloads of oilsands reports topped one million.

Wind turbineWhile oilsands and climate change were high profile areas of work for Pembina, staff continued work on renewable energy, collaborating with the Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition to create the highly influential federal renewable energy incentive program. The incentives encouraged the growth of renewable energy in Canada from 100 megawatts to more than 3,400 megawatts today.

Pembina's profile and reach grew rapidly in the new millennium. New offices sprouted in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Yellowknife and the original administrative unit in Drayton Valley, Alberta.  In its 25th year, with the increasing continentalization of energy and climate change policy, Pembina has opened a Washington DC bureau.

In 2003 Pembina helped launch, an online environmental education program designed to weave the environment into the curriculum­-in 2010 it's becoming its own organization.

Today Pembina has more than 60 staff and it still works with businesses, governments, research and non government organizations on sustainability consulting work while maintaining a high profile as a fact-based source of information and policy research on climate change, oilsands, green economics, transportation and renewable energy.

As Pembina celebrates its 25th Anniversary, it does so with the knowledge that it has and will continue to play an important role in shaping the energy policies we need in Canada to find a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future.

Today we call ourselves the Pembina Institute or simply Pembina, but we continue to envision a world in which our immediate and future needs are met in a manner that protects the earth's living systems; ensures clean air, land and water; prevents dangerous climate change; and provides for a safe and just global community.

Pembina's 25-year timeline

(View fullscreen of timeline by clicking "View in Dipity" on the top right)

Watch our 25th anniversary video interviews

Pembina 25th Anniversary Highlights Video featuring: Rob Macintosh starts the Pembina story with the Lodgepole blowout in 1982 in Drayton Valley Alberta and then we hear from David Suzuki, Paul Martin, Mark Anielski, David Keith, Gord Lambert, Linda Duncan and Mike Bernier.
Paul Martin: Inspiration and the Pembina Institute (Part 1 of 3), the 21st Prime Minister of Canada speaks with Pembina's David Dodge about his environmental inspiration, climate change and the Pembina Institute in Part 1 of our 25th Anniversary Interview. Martin says the oil spill in the Gulf is the most pressing issue today, after climte change. Regarding Pembina, Martin says "Pembina has played a very important role in Canada."

Part 1: Inspiration and Pembina
Part 2: Natural Capital and Enviornmental Indicators
Part 3: Climate Change and Environmental Indicators


Dr. David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster, speaks with Pembina's Julia Kilpatrick about  scientific illiteracy, Canadian politics, public perceptions about the environment, climate change and the work being done by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute. He "shudder[s] to think if Pembina hadn't been around. Pembina, to me, has been a very, very important organization that's given us a sense of credibility."


Rob MacIntosh and Wally Heinrichs, two founders of the Pembina Institute, reflect on how the worst sour gas blowout in Canadian history motivated them to move beyond building sustainable homes near Drayton Valley, Alberta to the founding of the Pembina Institute. In the beginning, Pembina was involved in peace issues, nuclear disarmament movements and international development in addition to oilsand gas.
Dr. David Keith, Canada Research Chair of Energy and Environment Systems, U of C, says the rate of change 100,000 times normal is something to worry about - Pembina's David Dodge talks to Dr. David Keith about climate change, climate science, climate solutions and the Pembina Institute.

Mayor Mike Bernier of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, talks with Pembina's Josha MacNab about Dawson Creek's work with Pembina on energy efficiency and climate change. Dawson Creek has won numerous awards for its efforts to make this northern British Columbia city sustainable.


Mark Anielski, economist and author of The Economics of Happiness says what's missing in traditional economics is any accounting for happiness and well being. Mark says we need to start measuring genuine progress and the things that make life good instead of car crashes and divorce, both of which cause GDP to rise. He also reflects on his time at Pembina.



Dr. Bob Page, TransAlta professor of environmental management and sustainability at the University of Calgary, talks to Pembina's Adrienne Beattie about his longstanding relationship with Pembina, the importance of working collaboratively with stakeholders and what's needed now in the environmental movement. 


Rob MacIntosh and Wally Heinrichs, two founders of the Pembina Institute, tell the story of the "I am an environmentalist" rant, based on Molson Canadian's "I am Canadian" rant series of commercials and long before Rick Mercer's trademark and very popular rants came along.


Gord Lambert, VP of Sustainable Development at Suncor Energy, talks with Pembina's David Dodge about sustainabiility in the era of climate change. He reflects on how his work and the challenges of balancing environmental, economic and energy issues. Lambert has a longstanding relationship with the Pembina Institute, and speaks to how those paths have crossed and what the future holds.


Linda Duncan, MP, says: "I have to say I value them (Pembina) incredibly. They are the best people in North America, if not the universe to deal with technical issues of environment and certainly energy. They are an unbelievable source. Anytime I am looking up any issue I go immediately to the Pembina website. And I refer people there all the time. It is clean, finely done, totally credible, independent information and they are invaluable for that."

Ralph Klein, former Premier of Alberta, speaks to Pembina's David Dodge about the Pembina Institute, climate change, the environmental implications of our energy supply. 
Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, reflects on Canada's progress on climate change from Kyoto to today, and how Pembina has contributed to drawing public attention to the issue of climate change and promoting sustainable energy solutions.

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