Wildrose climate denial could hurt Alberta oil sands, pipeline projects

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Screen shot from “The Environment: A True Story.”

Memo to Drew Barnes: Other provinces, US States, are listening…and Alberta needs their support

So, Wildrose energy critic Drew Barnes helped fund a climate change-denying film. I’m not surprised because Barnes reflects the attitude of many Albertans. What does alarm me, though, is how Barnes and Alberta conservatives seem to think their support for climate change denial will have no consequences for the provincial oil and gas industry if they form government in 2019.

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Drew Barnes, Wildrose Party energy critic.

The election of Donald Trump, backed by a Republican Congress, and the roll back of most of Barack Obama’s climate policies, has emboldened Alberta conservatives. They believe the political pendulum is swinging the other way, back toward fossil fuels, and away from (uneconomic, they believe) renewables like wind and solar, and the stuff and nonsense of the Energy Transition.

This is a political misjudgement on their part.

The greenhouse gas emissions issue in the United States is different than Canada. Power generation, which was dominated by coal for decades, is the problem south of the border. Obama’s Clean Power Plan was rightly called a war on coal, but the legislation has been hung up in court and will never be implemented by Trump.

Yet, coal has fallen from 56 per cent of electricity fuel sources not that long ago to 30 per cent. The decline has been driven almost entirely by cheap fracked natural gas and to a lesser extent by the rise of wind (now 5% of power generation) and solar (1%).

The shale revolution, founded on hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, coupled with deregulated and efficient electricity markets in states like Texas, has made the United States the only nation with declining GHG emissions.

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Bernadette Johnson, VP of market intelligence for Drillinginfo.

That trend will continue, according to the American experts I have interviewed.

“…generally companies are also beholden to their shareholders and the overall push is to develop these resources as cleanly and as safely as possible. That need doesn’t go away just because you have some small [federal] regulatory changes,” Bernadette Johnson, VP of market intelligence for Drillinginfo, told me in a Markham On Energy webinar in Feb.

“We’ve gotten very efficient, very good at producing these hydrocarbons safely and cleanly, and reducing the carbon footprint. I think those trends are just going to continue because we are in a world where we have to compete with renewables and other clean energy technologies.”

Monday, North American Energy News published a story about new radio frequency technology from Calgary-based Acceleware Ltd. that not only eliminating the use of natural gas for SAGD oil sands production, but actually lowers products costs significantly.

This is the trend in the Canadian and American oil patch: smart regulation at the provincial and state level to gradually reduce CO2 emissions over many decades until clean energy technology is more competitive.

The Trump Administration is a minor blip in a very long-term trend.

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Jason Kenney (left), leader of the PC party, Brian Jean, Wildrose leader. Photo: CBC

And here’s what Barnes and Alberta conservatives like Jason Kenney don’t understand: Most Canadians understand the energy transition and support it.

A seminal Abacus Data poll from Oct. 2016 showed that Canadian support for energy infrastructure is lukewarm at best – until you combine pipelines and climate change policies.

“There are strong voices on either side of the energy/environment debate, but most average Canadians are somewhere in the middle,” David Coletto, Abacus CEO, told me in an interview.

“They recognize the importance of our country dealing with the climate crisis, dealing with carbon emissions, but at the same time, they’re not willing to completely give up on the energy sector and see the importance of that to the country, that they almost want a balanced approach.”

A balanced approach, eh? In other words, not the fire-breathing climate denial, energy boosting of Barnes and the Wildrose Party.

And like it or not Alberta needs political support in other provinces for its oil sands crude and the pipelines that carry it to market.

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Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline route.

Getting the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Burnaby, BC built will be a lot easier – possible, at least – if middle of the road British Columbians are assured Alberta is taking steps to mitigate the climate impact of the oil sands.

The Abacus poll showed that 78 per cent of British Columbians will support pipelines if provincial governments and Ottawa implement policies to support the Energy Transition.

Why alienate potential TMX pipeline supporters with extreme climate change positions? Albertans will be surprised – though they shouldn’t be – that British Columbians pay attention to wild-eyed public comments made by Wildrose and PC politicians.

Little things like helping to fund a hard-core climate denier like John Robson and The Environment: A True Story gets noticed in the Lower Mainland – and not in a favourable way.

And Barnes et. al. should keep in mind that the Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines are in various stages of approval. That’s almost two million b/d of transport capacity badly needed by the Alberta oil sands sector.

It’s time for Mr. Barnes – and his oil industry supporters in Calgary – to recognize that playing to the political cheap seats has consequences outside Alberta. Negative ones.

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Posted in: Markham on Energy

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