Communication, cooperation, and collaboration. These were the three C's championed by Suncor's (NYSE: SU) big cheese at the World Heavy Oil Conference yesterday. And when you stop to think about the considerable challenges that oil sands producers face, it's clear that these are more than simple buzzwords.

With crude oil seemingly setting record highs every day, oil-sands oligarchs like Suncor, Imperial Oil (NYSE: IMO), and Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ) appear to be on easy street. But in truth, their margins are threatened from all sides. There's a shortage of materials and skilled labor, and the industry relies on increasingly pricey natural gas to power its massive facilities. The government has taken a bigger tax bite, and environmental compliance costs continue to climb.

Thus, in order to maintain shareholder value in the oil sands space, let alone build that value, Suncor CEO Rick George argues that the various players will have to increasingly reach across company lines. I've noted some joint efforts over the past few months, such as BP's (NYSE: BP) poetic partnership with Husky Energy, and EnCana's (NYSE: ECA) profitable arrangement with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP). George also cited Williams' (NYSE: WMB) innovative extraction of natural gas liquids from one of Suncor's facilities.

These joint ventures are encouraging, but they pale in comparison to what multiparty projects could, and will need to, achieve. CO2 capture and storage is one of the industry's most pressing needs. Just this week, the Canadian government announced that oil sands and coal-fired power plants starting up in 2012 and beyond are required to employ this yet-to-be-commercialized emissions reduction technology.

Everyone faces the same challenge, or, to take the entrepreneurial point of view, the same opportunity. Another industrywide opportunity is the potential of turning petroleum coke -- a byproduct of the oil sands upgrading process -- into synthetic gas.

Suncor is sending an important message here. Let's hope the other companies mentioned above have leaders as receptive to collaborative solutions.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is all about the three C's.