Energy industry backs national energy strategy
By Markham Hislop
Does Canada need a national energy strategy? Alberta Premier Alison Redford thinks so and, apparently, so does a Canadian policy organization comprised of Canada’s leading energy companies.
The Energy Policy Institute of Canada, or EPIC as it pretentiously likes to call itself, will be releasing an Canadian Energy Strategy Framework document Thursday in Calgary. Redford’s critics have complained that no one, including the premier, knows what a national energy strategy looks like. Well, tomorrow morning they’ll find out.
Fortunately for Beacon News readers, EPIC published a “progress document” last year that gives us a peek into what heavyweight energy companies like Imperial Oil, Shell Canada and Suncor want from a national energy strategy. As an aside, of EPIC’s 37 members, 24 of them are based in Alberta, most in Calgary. And the executive who will preside over EPIC’s media conference is well-known Calgary lawyer Doug Black.
Here are the five points EPIC believes should underpin a Canadian national energy strategy:
- Improve Canada’s regulatory regime by eliminating overlapping and inconsistent requirements at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
- Enhance Canada’s energy security by moving beyond our historical reliance on the United State and capturing growth opportunities in Asia and elsewhere.
- Adopt interim carbon pricing measures, and define the criteria that should inform the design of long-term carbon-pricing regime in Canada.
- Promote greater public knowledge of energy’s impact on our economy, environment, and society with a view to increasing conservation behaviour.
- Foster energy innovation by encouraging more private sector investment in game-changing technologies.
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Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, who is often criticized for being in the pocket of Calgary’s oil companies, has been one of Redford’s most vocal opponents on this file.
“The Wildrose Official Opposition has long warned that Redford’s hazy national energy strategy leaves Alberta’s interests at risk, as is now unfolding. Instead, Alberta should be working bilaterally with other provinces on a case-by-case basis to address critical infrastructure needs,” Smith said in a July 27 press release.
What Smith is really doing is blaming Redford for BC Premier Christy Clark’s demand for a greater share of the “fiscal and economic benefits” of the Northern Gateway pipeline. What Wildrose and its supporters in the Alberta media want is for Redford to wave her magic wand and make Clark go away, conveniently forgetting that the BC Liberal’s stance on Northern Gateway is driven by political problems, i.e. running a distant third in public opinion polls with an election coming next spring, not some inherent flaw in the idea of a national energy strategy.
One pundit pointed out that BC has never asked for a national strategy on salmon fishing or forestry. Fair enough, but salmon aren’t shipped to market by pipeline, either. And if you “spill” salmon the ecosystem isn’t going to be harmed, as is demonstrably the case with crude oil, which leads to intense criticism of Alberta’s major industry by environmental groups.
We could argue all day about the trees, but it is Redford who sees the forest, which is that Canada has become a global energy superpower, a fact most of its citizens are just waking up to. Production from the Alberta oil sands is going to double by 2020 and triple by 2030. That kind of growth is going to have a tremendous impact on the Canadian economy. And it’s already bringing in its wake tremendous criticism from opponents around the world, like the greens, who disagree with the basic premise of the oil sands.
Take another look at EPIC’s five proposals. You can see Canada’s energy industry grappling with big picture issues that if not properly addressed now could cripple it not many years in the future as that tsunami of oil begins to roll out of northern Alberta.
How will we get our product to market? If Canadians don’t understand our industry, how can we gain the social licence to build critical infrastructure, like pipelines? How do we marshall the capital and brain power to develop exciting new technologies?
The spat with Clark over Northern Gateway illustrates what happens when there isn’t a national consensus on those questions. Enbridge in particular and the Alberta energy industry in general have done a pathetic job of educating British Columbians about their industry. They have failed to respond to their critics and they have not engaged citizens about the issues surrounding shipping oil sands bitumen across the rugged wilderness of the BC interior.
As a result, Enbridge has not earned the social licence it needs for its project. Even if the Stephen Harper government rams the project through the environmental review process, BC First Nations and the BC NDP have promised to kill Northern Gateway with a thousand cuts that include law suits and increased permitting costs.
EPIC’s members want to avoid another Northern Gateway debacle. Remember, Keystone XL will be back on the public radar this fall and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Express is just starting its environmental review. Nix those three pipelines and Alberta will be sitting on a lake of unsold oil sands bitumen in just a few years.
And if you think an east-west pipeline is the answer to Alberta’s problems, imagine trying to build one (or more likely two or three) to Ontario or the Maritimes without a national energy strategy.
It’s not hard to understand the Alberta energy industry’s self-interest in a national energy strategy.
What is hard to understand is the criticism of Alison Redford for getting behind one.