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CALGARY — With a world-wide recession continuing to deepen and large multinational energy companies continue to scale back there may be "billions of dollars" in opportunities for Canadian businesses possessing environmental technology.

An official with Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil company by production and reserves, is spending the next few days in Calgary on a drive to recruit companies that may be willing to invest their environmental technology know-how in Saudi Arabia.

"In the environmental area - the recession will never hit especially in a country like Saudi Arabia where the environment is essential," said Ramzi Hejazi, general supervisor for the state-run oil giant's environmental engineering division.

"We need to ensure our water is clean and if there is any contamination we need to clean it. Water, oil and soil those are essential things so the government has made sure that the environment will play role number one," he added.

Hejazi, who made a presentation to about 20 business leaders Monday, said there are 11 refineries in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco has more than 100 facilities that need constant supervision.

He said environmental regulations in the country only lag slightly behind the Environmental Protection Agency standards in place in the United States and will likely become stricter.

Hejazi said Saudi Arabia is in need of wastewater treatment plants, recycling depots, landfills, water purification plants and needs to clean up existing groundwater contamination and keep the air clean.

The recession isn't going to stop Saudi Aramco from pressing ahead he said.

"We're still producing a fair amount of oil and $40 is still not bad for us - we'll survive," said Hejazi who encouraged Calgary businesses to be aggressive in seeking to do business with Saudi Aramco.

"The economic situation is down right now but it's a cycle and we know it's going to go up. We are telling people to be ready and prepare for it and make the foundation for it because in a couple of years you'll be ahead of the game."

John MacDonald, CEO of Calgary-based Brimrock which provides technical expertise on sulphur including how to design facilities and operational expertise, is looking at approaching a Saudi company for a joint-venture project to get its foot in the door.

He said many Canadian companies don't realize what kind of opportunities are out there.

"With the Canadian oil and gas guys - it's been pretty good in Alberta - all boats float in a rising tide. The guys who are comfortable having coffee with each other - they don't want to step outside their comfort zone - even though they've got some really good technical expertise and technologies that are applicable down there," said MacDonald.

"These guys come into Calgary looking for good companies and the guys here have this whole perception of what goes on in Saudi Arabia but there's a tremendous amount of opportunities."

MacDonald said the one thing not in short supply in Saudi Arabia is ready cash.

"When you go down and spend a couple of weeks down there people talk about money in terms of B's. You know a billion here or two billion there," he said.

"They've got a current expansion program with their refining and gas base of $60 billion to spend just on new facilities."

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