‘Oilsplaining’ – Alberta energy boosters’ clueless communications with Rest of Canada

oilsplainOilsplaining to Canadians outside Alberta antagonizes potential supporters of key energy infrastructure projects

oil-splain – verb: 1. an oil industry supporter explaining the value of pipelines, oil sands, etc. to someone, typically a Canadian living outside Alberta or Saskatchewan, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing; 2. To assume someone doesn’t support Alberta oil and gas ambitions because they don’t know enough about Alberta’s energy sector.

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The Alberta oil industry suffers from serious cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand, it wants Vancouver opponents of Kinder Morgan’s 525,000 b/d Trans Mountain Expansion to support that project and the Alberta oil sands, whose crude oil will flow from Alberta to Burnaby and on to Asian or California markets by tanker.

On the other hand, every time industry representatives, boosters, media lapdogs, and Calgary-based executives – what I call the Calgary Bubble – open their mouths, they’re oilsplaining to British Columbians.

If you spend any time at all on social media, you know exactly how women feel about being “mansplained” to by men. Hint – they hate it.

Well, same thing in British Columbia.

Bill Whitelaw.

Consider this open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from Bill Whitelaw, influential editor of CEO of influential JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group:

Look what’s happening in British Columbia. It’s shameful. A decision with the force of democracy behind it has been made—on a project that was thoroughly debated and is intensively regulated. And yet there are those who think they can undo it simply by disagreeing with the decision. That attitude flouts the way we do democracy in Canada and it sets us on a slippery slope.

That right there is some serious oilsplaining. Whitelaw completely ignores the depth of opposition in BC’s lower mainland, where Trans Mountain Expansion will terminate, where even moderates and business types have serious concerns about the project.

Oilsplaining won’t win over the Burnaby Board of Trade, for instance, which should be a natural ally of Kinder Morgan but which released a study last year that listed quite a number of issues concerning the local business community.

To explain oilsplaining, to really get at the roots of the phenomenon, I turned to (mostly) Alberta readers for some insight.

I’m not optimistic denizens of the Calgary Bubble will read this and rethink their oilsplaining behaviour, but we’ll never know if we don’t try, right?

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Alex S. Kelly, CalgaryBasic resistance to change – they’re merely, yet sadly, Late Majority or Laggards. Renewables [energy supporters] are the Innovators and Early Adopters, with the Early Majority/tipping point coming.

Michelle Shaw, Calgary: The oil patch has been resistant all along to change. They got themselves comfortably ensconced in their boardrooms, and the pockets of Alberta’s right wing politicians. They don’t think they have to explain anything outside of the Alberta power structure.

oilsplainAlan D. Means, Midland, Texas: The oil and gas industry is extremely competitive. There are always several companies vying for the same acreage, prospect or just to get an edge up on their competition. Therefore we do not share well with each other in the business much less outside of our business. Secondly it take a sizeable ego to be a business owner in this industry due to its boom bust nature. Thirdly we produce a product that the industialised world is addicted to. We are like the drug dealers to the addict (you need us and we don’t really care what you think).

Michael Barnard, Vancouver: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair. The challenges that people outside of the patch have with oil and gas are difficult for oil patch people to understand and internalize. The perception of oil and gas has changed over twenty years in the general public’s eyes. They have gone from a source of wealth with some unfortunate pollution problems, to a source of pollution and global warming with an expiration date on their use. But inside the patch, it’s difficult psychologically to accept that what was generally considered a societal positive has become a societal negative. And it’s just as hard to accept that the negative externalities of oil and gas are now outweighing the positive fiscal benefits.

Agatha Smykot, Calgary: The same thing happens in agriculture. As there is a shift towards a more sustainable industry, and as consumers continue to question how food is grown and raised, there is a group of hugely insecure stakeholders that lash out at consumers. I’ve seen it at every level of the supply chain, from marketing boards, farmers, processing plants, even government. It serves nobody and only casts an even darker shadow over the entire industry.

Ruth Hamlyn-Spilak, Sherwood Park: Not to hack on people who work in the oil field (a lot of my family did and still do!), but I think there’s a bit of smugness that comes from having been the economic engine of Alberta for so long; some people in the industry see it as Canada’s “sugar daddy.”

Norm Kelly, Calgary: ‘NOOT’ (natural order of things); once that attitude/perception is embedded…very difficult to alter the lens of perception.

Brandi Thorne, Sherwood Park: It’s the culture. A culture deeply embedded with misogyny and a certain expectation of how to behave, talk, and act. They don’t even know they’re doing it.

Malcolm Pellettier, Calgary: I’m a lawyer, and there’s a sizeable cultural component to all of this. Jurisprudentially, Alberta is by far the most conservative bench in the country. A long time ago, it used to be Roman Catholic Quebec who held that honour, but ever since the Quiet Revolution,Quebec’s had the most progressive bench in the country,reflected in labour, social and even political circles. Alberta, conversely, is the most regressive in the country…I’d suggest that there’s a tremendous victimist culture in this province that goes back to at least Lougheed, and the notion that you’re somehow taken advantage of by Ottawa, and the rest of the country, leastways, via taxation , that beggars both logic and facts…Part of the Petro Curse, of course, is industry taking over both governmental and media functions within its jurisdiction. I wish to hell, my fellow Calgarians would read a newspaper that wasn’t written in this (forgive me, backwater) province…..and I don’t mean the Globe or the Post, whose oil cheerleading, is itself highly suspect.

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