Only 18% of Canadians trust oil/gas industry, 21% have a favourable view of sector
Brian Jean, who is campaigning to be the first leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta, wants to add energy literacy to the provincial education curriculum. He thinks students should be taught about the wonders of petroleum. Bad policy idea, Mr. Jean, for several reasons.
“For instance, many people don’t understand what’s made of petroleum, what are petroleum products,” Jean told reporters Monday as he launched his education platform in Calgary, according to Global News.
“When people have a basic understanding of that kind of thing, I think it makes them understand how important it is to the world, in particular how important Alberta is to the world.”
This is a timeworn meme in conservative politics, the idea that if opponents of Alberta’s oil and gas sector just understood how dependent they are on hydrocarbons, how much economic activity is generated by extracting and transporting energy, the scales would fall from their eyes and they would immediately cease their pernicious efforts to put Alberta out of business.
The need for energy literacy in the Rest of Canada is an article of faith in Alberta, especially within industry. I have had this discussion with hundreds of Albertans over the years, from CEOs and industry association heads to service company owners to roughnecks to just plain old boosters.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has been promoting energy literacy for years and currently has four initiatives under way: Oil Sands Today (website chock full of basic information about the oil sands), Canada’s Natural Gas (same strategy, different hydrocarbon), Atlantic Canada’s Offshore (ditto) and Big Oil’s flagship energy literacy program, Canada’s Energy Citizens.
These are all great initiatives and exactly the kind of programs an industry association like CAPP should undertake.
An example of their reach, CAPP media representative Tonya Zelinsky said in an email that about 60 per cent of Canada’s Energy Citizens members are located outside Alberta. The program has 186,000 members on Facebook and 88,000 online.
That means 111,600 non-Alberta Energy Citizens on Facebook and 52,000 on the website. Good numbers, but they haven’t done much to move the needle as far as opposition to energy infrastructure is concerned.
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In fact, a recent CAPP-sponsored Ipsos Reid poll found that only 18 per cent of Canadians trust the national oil and gas industry and only 21 per cent think favourably about it, “significantly lower than results from other major producing countries.”
What does cause Canadians to support pipeline and other energy-related projects?
National policies that speed up the “energy transition” from fossil fuels to clean energy technologies.
In typical Canadian fashion, people from coast to coast to coast told Abacus Data pollsters that they would support new pipelines as long as Ottawa implemented policies – such as carbon taxes – to hasten the Energy Transition.
Poll respondents were asked, “let’s imagine that while putting in place these measures to encourage a shift to renewable energy, the federal government also approved a new pipeline to get Canada’s oil and gas to new markets, would you strongly support, support, accept, oppose, or strongly oppose such a decision?”
Just over three-quarters of the respondents (76%) would support (41%) or accept (35%) this approach, and that included 80 per cent of Liberals and 62 per cent of NDP voters, members of parties in British Columbia who have mostly opposed the construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast.
Energy literacy is a 1950s approach to obtaining political legitimacy for Alberta energy.
Energy Transition-positive policies are clearly what modern Canadians want and are willing to support.
One other objection to focusing on energy literacy: basic fairness is required in the education curriculum, which is supposed to equip students to better understand the world around them, not brainwash them into good little industry supporters.
If students are taught about the benefits of oil, which mostly powers transportation, shouldn’t they also be taught about electric cars and alternate fuels like hydrogen?
If students learn how clean burning natural gas heats homes, is the feedstock for materials like plastics and nitrogen fertilizer, and is increasingly used to generate electricity, should they not also learn about wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and net-zero homes?
Even industry leaders like Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih, and former CAPP president Dave Collyer acknowledge that the global economy has begun the Energy Transition, which means the world will eventually use far less oil and gas than it currently consumes.
A modern Alberta education curriculum can’t cheer lead for oil and gas but ignore the most significant global trend affecting the energy industry.
Which is essentially what Jean is advocating.
Why bother? Most Albertans already support the provincial energy industry, for a variety of perfectly good reasons, including the fact they’re smart enough to know on which side their bread is buttered.
Indoctrinating their kids with a one-sided view of the Alberta energy industry isn’t going to change anything, inside Alberta or outside the province where Alberta desperately needs political support for critical pipeline projects.
If Brian Jean and the UCP want to support the Alberta oil and gas industry, they need to come up with policies that sound like they weren’t written by Ernest Manning and the Social Credit Party.