Dave Yager appointment to AER board symbol of status quo, not change

New AER board appointments reflect Danielle Smith’s “slow energy transition” mentality

This Note was supposed to be about Dave Yager, Premier Danielle Smith’s old pal, the one she recently appointed to the Alberta Energy Regulator’s board of directors. The guy she hired for $70,000 to review the AER’s operations, then refused to make his report public. A writer I have frequently and publicly called a shill for the oil industry. Then it occurred to me that Yager’s appointment really doesn’t matter. And that, dear readers, is the problem.

Dave Yager. Source: Twitter/X.

Look at the board Yager is joining.

Outgoing chair Dave Goldie is a geophysicist and long-time oil and gas industry veteran. Incoming chair Duncan Au is an accountant and former CEO of an oilfield service company who sat on the boards of numerous industry associations. New member Carey Arnett was president of the Calgary Petroleum Club. Almost all of the other members have been oil and gas consultants at one time or another.

This is the industry establishment. Board members new and old are all bright, accomplished individuals, but they’re interchangeable pylons who will do little to alter the entrenched order.

Why is this important? 

The incestuous relationship between the Alberta government, the industry, and the regulator goes back to the establishment of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board in 1938. The number one priority of Alberta, government and citizens alike, has always been the profitability of the oil and gas industry. The second has been to attract the tens of billions in capital that sustains the service companies. The third and fourth are jobs and government revenue. Well down the list are protecting the environment, forcing companies to clean up their depleted wells, and providing fair processes for landowners to resolve disputes with producers.

This is the status quo and it is so well entrenched, so much a part of Alberta’s political culture and social identity, that it could continue forever. There are many within the industry, like Yager, who wish it would. Unfortunately, for the old guard, change is on the horizon. The global energy transition is coming – fast! – for Alberta’s golden goose. What is becoming clearer by the day is that politicians, the government, and the industry have seriously misjudged how quickly that change is arriving.

This is the importance of Yager’s appointment. 

He is the embodiment of the hidebound conservative (in the classic sense of hating change) culture that permeates the upper reaches of the Alberta oil and gas establishment. Where “thought leaders” like Brett Wilson circulate social memes disparaging new energy technologies like EVs and batteries that turn out to have egregiously wrong data. Where the response to the looming threat of an aggressively industrial China is “but, but coal…”

Sadly, the half of the oil and gas sector that is younger and understands that the global energy system is transforming because of new technologies, those professionals keep their head down and their mouths shut. They tell journalists like me their hair-raising industry tales off-the-record. The alternative, speaking on-the-record, is to never work in the oil and gas sector again.

No wonder Chief Allan Adam calls for the AER to be dynamited and rebuilt with Indigenous, provincial, and federal management. No wonder energy administrative law expert Mark Dorin continually calls, futilely as it turns out, for Alberta’s legislation and regulations to actually be enforced by the regulator. No wonder environmental law professors like Martin Olszynski and Shaun Fluker document over and over again the many egregious ways in which the AER fails to carry out its mandate.

Critics keep hoping that Albertans will one day wake up and comprehend the existential threat to their province represented by the approximately $300 billion of unfunded oil and gas environmental liabilities.

Alas, that day is not today.

Dave Yager will change exactly nothing at the AER. And that’s just the way Premier Danielle Smith and the oil CEOs want it.

Related reading:
Danielle Smith’s Alberta, the land of energy dinosaurs
IEA’s right, OPEC’s wrong, Alberta allied with oil cartel
Alberta and the energy transition in 2024: last chance to choose a different path?
Unethical Oil Part 2: Alberta’s orphan well crisis

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