Alberta oil and gas voices calling for innovation while Newfoundland’s Hibernia workers face layoffs on June 12

Alberta’s Minister of  Energy, Sonya Savage outraged many Canadians with her comments on May 25  that the Covid-19 pandemic offers a “great time to build pipelines” because of the lack of protestors , and construction on the TransMountain pipeline began in Kamloops B.C.  on June 2.  Yet,  Max Fawcett, former editor of Oil and Gas magazine writes in a CBC Opinion piece, “Alberta could be fighting its last pipeline battle”   (May 27), stating:

“It will be difficult for a government that prides itself on its willingness to fight for one vision of the oil and gas industry to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape…..It will be tempting for it to continue railing against the federal government, environmental activists, and all of its other enemies, foreign and domestic. And if Biden wins the White House, and follows through on his pledge to cancel Keystone XL’s presidential permit, that temptation may prove overwhelming.

But the ground has shifted under the Government of Alberta’s feet, just as it has for all of us, due to COVID-19.

The sooner it comes to terms with that, and helps the rest of Alberta do the same, the better.”

Fawcett also criticized the Alberta government of Jason Kenney in  “Still waiting for Alberta to get the memo on climate-conscious investing”,   commenting  on the implications of the Norway’s Government Pension Fund decision to divest from Canadian oil and gas companies  because of their excessive climate impacts. Fawcett  calls for Alberta to tell a “more honest story”.

Notably, voices from Canada’s oil sands industry “Establishment” are also speaking out and signalling a shift in attitude.   On June 1, as part of the  Climate Knights Planning for a Green Recovery series, Mark Little, the CEO of Suncor Energy and Laura Kilcrease, CEO of the government agency Alberta Innovates  wrote an OpEd titled, “Canada’s oil sands are best positioned to lead the energy transformation”.  Hearkening back to the 1970’s in Canada and citing a 2019 BNP Parabas report on the declining future of oil , they acknowledge the inevitable coming transition with this:

“While Canadian oil and gas will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for some time, we have to take advantage of new opportunities that offer attractive growth prospects. The temporary economic lockdown triggered by the 2020 pandemic is giving us a glimpse into a not-too-distant future where the transformation of our energy system could disrupt demand on a similar scale. Disruption breeds opportunity and forward-looking companies and countries will need to step up and lead.

Now is the time to take a big step forward. As the history of the oil sands reveals, disruption and transformation are nothing new for Albertans and we’re optimistic that the Canadian energy industry is up to the challenge and best positioned to invest in and lead energy transformation.”

Industry response to the joint OpEd appears in “Suncor, Alberta Innovates op-ed a game-changer as oil and gas industry finally embraces energy transition” appeared  in EnergiMedia (June 2).  noting “ ….. it cannot be a coincidence that the same day the op-ed was published, Alberta finance minister Travis Toews told Postmedia that the Alberta government is preparing an economic recovery plan that will focus on diversifying “various industry sectors that we know have a great future in the province, certainly energy and agriculture as you would expect.”

Layoffs in June as Newfoundland’s Hibernia and offshore oil industry in crisis 

offshore rigOn June 3, CBC reported “Hibernia layoffs about to begin ‘with heavy hearts,’ drilling company says” , summarizing the announcement by Hibernia Management Development Corporation (HMDC) that it will suspend drilling operations starting June 12, as a cost-cutting measure in response to a collapse in oil prices.  The 18-month suspension of drilling  had already been announced in April , even before the negative impacts on demand by the COVID-19 pandemic.   The total number of layoffs may approach 600 members of  Unifor Local 2121 , which represents workers at  the Hibernia offshore installation and also at the affected Terra Nova FPSO vessel.  According to Article 32 of the current collective agreement  , six months’ written notice was required “In the event of platform closure, partial platform closure, technological change or restructuring, which will involve permanent reduction of regular rotation employees….”

These developments are the latest in a series of setbacks which constitute a crisis for the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland, summarized in  in “How a pandemic and production war thrashed one of N.L.’s 4 producing oil fields” (May 20) . The political lobbying for federal funds is described in “N.L. oil industry, former premier, rally behind MP Seamus O’Regan in quest for federal help”  (May 14)  and a Canadian Press article “N.L. warns of exodus of oil and gas industry without more federal help”  (May 26).

On June 4, the provincial government of Newfoundland announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”  which  reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”   This comes a week after the government-appointed  Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council released their long-delayed report, A Home for Nature   which proposes  32 protected areas and a framework for ecological protection on land and offshore.

The Fossil fuel industry in Alberta: public opinion, and mapping ownership

Parkland provincesapart_coverIn Provinces Apart? Comparing Citizen Views in Alberta and British Columbia,  released by the Parkland Institute on October 25, the authors re-visit the data from a survey conducted in February – March 2017, and conclude that what differences exist between citizens of Alberta and British Columbia are attributable more to their political self-identification than to their province, age, or educational status. While the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was certainly an active issue at the time, the survey pre-dated the bitter political battle and subsequent media attention which ensued from the federal government’s purchase of the project, and the Court decision which suspended construction. After a brief review the political events of the most recent Trans Mountain controversy, the authors conclude “the governing and opposition parties in both provinces have exacerbated this partisan divide.”

In those calmer days when the survey was conducted, citizens’ views on political influence, the fossil fuel industry, climate change, and the role of protests in a democracy were not as divergent as stereotypes tell us.   Findings of particular interest: 53% of respondents in Alberta and  69% in B.C. agreed that “we need to move away from using fossil fuels;” 76% in Alberta and 68% in B.C. thought the petroleum industry has too much influence over governments, (fewer than one-third said the same about either environmentalists, labour unions or Indigenous groups).

Parkland 2018 who_owns_fossil fuel coverThe Parkland Institute also published Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control   in October, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. and Saskatchewan, and the University of Victoria.  The analysis covers the period from 2010 to 2015, and demonstrates that the production, ownership and control of the fossil fuel industry is highly concentrated: “The top 25 owners together account for more than 40 per cent of overall revenues during this period.”  At 16%, foreign corporations are the largest type of majority owners (led by ExxonMobil) ; asset managers and investment funds are the 2nd largest; banks and life insurers are the third-largest type of owner (approximately 12% of revenues), with the big five Canadian banks (RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC) among the top investors. The federal Canadian government, combined with provincial governments, own 2%.  The report provides a wealth of information, including names and ranks of specific companies in the network of ownership and control, points out the importance of divestment campaigns, and “identifies the need to shift from fossil-fuel oligarchy to energy democracy, in which control of economic decisions shifts to people and communities, such as through public ownership of renewables and much greater democratic participation in energy policy.”

For more insight into Alberta and its energy economy, the Parkland Institute is hosting a conference, Alberta 2019: Forces of Change   from November 16 – 18. Presentations include: Opening Keynote, “In the Eye of the Storm”, by Lynne Fernandez (Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Manitoba); “The Alberta Economy in Context” by Angella MacEwen; “Just Transitions in the Belly of the Beast” by Emily Eaton ( University of Regina); and “Boom, Bust, and Consolidation: Corporate Restructuring in the Alberta Oil Sands” by Ian Hussey (Research Manager at Parkland Institute).

bluegreen alberta 2018Also from Alberta:  the 2018 event from BlueGreen Canada,  Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 was held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This is the third annual event –  summaries from 2017  and 2016  are here.

NDP-Green alliance promises a new chapter for B.C. government and climate change policies

BC minority-government-20170529

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan  (photo by The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

According to a June 12 press release, the Legislature of British Columbia will be recalled on June 22, when a confidence motion will determine who will lead the government  after the cliff-hanger election of May 9.  Read “Greens to prop up NDP’s Horgan in minority BC government” in the National Observer (May 29) for an overview of the alliance reached between the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) as they prepare to form the new provincial  government.  What have they agreed on?  The text of the “Supply and Confidence” agreement, “founded on the principles of good faith and no surprises”,  is available at the B.C. NDP website . Major points of agreement on climate change issues are:  implacable opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline;  an increase in the province’s carbon tax by $5 a tonne each year from April 2018, rising to the nationally required $50 a tonne by 2021;  a six-month, independent review of the unpopular  Site C hydroelectric project (a concession by the Greens, who had wanted to axe it outright); revival of  the province’s Climate Leadership Team; and  an investigation into  the safety of fracking. Read also “What does a NDP- Green Alliance mean for Climate Change?” in the Climate Examiner (June 8), and for the larger picture beyond climate change-related issues, see “ BC NDP-Green agreement offers historic opportunity for game-changing new policies” by Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. , or  “NDP and Greens Promise Electoral Reform Referendum, Big Money Ban and Higher Carbon Tax”  in The Tyee (May 30).

The national implications of the coming changes to B.C. energy policy are raised by Kathryn Harris  in “A Historic moment for B.C. Politics and our Environment”  in the Globe and Mail (updated June 1), who states: “At the heart of the Trudeau government’s 2016 climate plan lies a political compromise: a commitment to pursue reductions in Canada’s own greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for expansion of fossil-fuel exports to other countries via new pipelines. The looming NDP-Green partnership in British Columbia reveals both the political fragility of that compromise and the contradiction of climate leadership funded by fossil-fuel development.”

In that controversial pipeline debate: new, required reading from the Parkland Institute: Will the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tidewater Access Boost Prices and Save Canada’s Oil Industry?.  Author David Hughes  challenges the contention by pipeline proponents (for example, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley)  that Alberta would benefit from a “tidewater premium” by reaching global markets, and concludes that “The new BC government would be wise to withdraw the Province’s approval for this project.”  And “Showdown looms for LNG project”,  an overview article  in The Globe and Mail indicates the changes likely to come on that file, although the NDP-Green agreement doesn’t explicitly address the LNG issue.

The Pembina Institute offers an alternative to the Clark fossil fuel economy,  in their Vision for Clean Growth Economy  for B.C., released in May.  It outlines  five key priorities and makes specific recommendations for their achievement: 1. Build a strong clean tech sector 2. Position B.C. to be competitive in the changing global economy 3. Make clean choices more affordable 4. Stand up for healthy and safe communities, and 5. Grow sustainable resource jobs.

June 2016 News: British Columbia

Controversy in B.C. over the Pembina Institute report released on June 14, How do B.C.’s Climate Action commitments stack up?  .  The report uses modelling by the Canadian Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project Team to predict that  B.C.’s emissions will rise 39 per cent above their 2014 level by 2030 following the current policies.  Over 80 per cent of the emissions increase between 2014 and 2030 is projected to come from oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas (LNG).  See also the Pembina Backgrounder  as well as “How B.C. became a Climate Laggard”   in the Globe and Mail , a review by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS)   and  “How the B.C. Government responded”  in The National Observer .

And public opinion continues to oppose current policies,  including  Petronas’ $36-billion Pacific Northwest LNG  development, and the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, where both the City of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation  have filed appeals in B.C. courts.   Even the academics at the normally apolitical Royal Society of Canada have issued an Open Letter  opposing the Site C Hydro Dam on the Peace River.  Against this backdrop, the government’s updated Climate Change policy is expected at the end of June.

OPPOSITION TO KINDER MORGAN’S TRANS MOUNTAIN PIPELINE CONTINUES

The TransMountain Pipeline Expansion project by Kinder Morgan proposes to build a new pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., as well as a new marine terminal, to be served by oil tankers. CBC has created a compilation of stories about the highly unpopular project and the protests against it, available here .   The project is currently under review by the National Energy Board with a recommendation to Cabinet expected in January 2016 – all official documents and proceedings are here . On May 26, the Tsleil-Waututh’s First Nation, whose traditional territory includes Burrard Inlet, rejected the project . The City of Vancouver also formally opposes the project and released a report estimating the economic damage to the City from potential oil spills.   On May 27, Unifor submitted evidence to the NEB, laying out the union’s reasons for its opposition, which include the environmental risks, but also relate to the economic interests of the union’s membership in the oil and gas sector and the B.C. commercial fishery. Unifor also criticized the narrow scope of the NEB review, which excludes consideration of the impacts of the pipeline project on workers and commercial interests as part of its “public interest” mandate. On June 1, a study released by Simon Fraser University and Living Oceans concluded that the public interest is not served by the project. Public Interest Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion tests a variety of economic scenarios, and concludes that the project will result in a net cost to Canada that ranges between $4.1 and $22.1 billion, mainly because it will create excess pipeline capacity, and because of the enormous environmental risks.