Oil sands emissions cap, carbon levy, output-based allocation system sets up industry for years of expansion – Notley must defend her own regulations
Marg McCuaig-Boyd wrote an op-ed in the Friday Calgary Herald defending the Alberta government’s energy and climate policies. Postmedia writer Claudia Cattaneo replied with a giant oil sands dump truck of claptrap masquerading as opinion journalism. My advice to Premier Rachel Notley? She’s at war with the Calgary Petroleum Club crowd – and its media surrogates – and she should begin to act like it.
Cattaneo is the attack dog for a certain segment of the Alberta oil patch, the crew that funds the Wildrose Party and supported Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative Assoc. of Alberta leadership run and will no doubt fund the United Conservative Party if Alberta conservatives can overcome their bitter infighting.
Executives for whom the Rachel Notley NDP are apostates and interlopers, according to political scientist Keith Brownsey of Mount Royal University.
“You have segments of the oil and gas industry that are just completely opposed to any of these environmental constraints,” Brownsey said in an interview, recounting conversations with energy executives who are still “apoplectic” about the NDP holding power in Alberta.
Cattaneo’s column is just a press release for that mob. How can we tell?
Because it’s riddled with egregious inaccuracies that should be embarrassing to an energy journalist.
The most obvious is her continued – one has to think it’s deliberate by now – misunderstanding of the oil sands emissions cap.
She calls the emissions cap “the most destructive” of the new NDP climate regulations. She asks, “Why would anyone invest in a notoriously long-term business if it runs out of room in the next 10 years, where existing plants would be shut down if emissions hit the limit, where new projects would be put on hold,” if Notley accepts the recommendations from the Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG).
The answer is simple: the cap (along with the carbon levy and output-based allocation system) is designed to reduce the carbon-intensity of oil sands crude, which in turn enables industry to produce more oil while generating roughly the same amount of emissions (currently around 70 megatonne a year).
Around 1.5 million b/d more oil sands crude by 2030, according to CAPP, bringing total oil sands output to around 4 million b/d, a significant increase.
The regulations were developed in consultation with oil sands producers and CEOs have publicly praised them.
Dave Collyer, past president of the Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers and co-chair of OSAG, says the emissions cap is very good policy that has nothing to do with partisan politics or ideology.
“I think the industry in Calgary ought to be more visibly supportive of the direction that both the federal and provincial governments are going. This isn’t, in my mind, a political issue, as I said earlier, it’s a policy issue,” he said in an interview.
“You don’t have to be a strong supporter of the NDP government and the federal Liberals, I don’t think, to support the policy direction they’re taking on these issues.”
If only the Alberta government would provide political support for its own policies.
I recently interviewed Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd and Environment and Climate Change Minister Shannon Phillips about Alberta political opposition to climate regulations and British Columbia opposition to the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, especially under a John Horgan-led NDP government.
Frankly, I found both ministers a tad naive on the issue, with little sense of urgency on files that demand it.
“More and more, people are seeing the connection [between energy and climate], especially when Prime Minister Trudeau gave us the permission for the two pipelines and cited our Climate Leadership Plan,” said McCuaig-Boyd, who is finding meetings with energy executives more and more cordial. “Yes, it’s a thaw.”
Phillips says Alberta’s message is getting through to British Columbia, but the government can “do a better job” communicating the benefits of oil and gas regulations.
She also claims success in Calgary, the home of energy corporation head offices and the epicentre of opposition to the new climate regulations, but also home to voters – 18 to 49 year old highly educated professionals – most likely to support those rules.
Phillips was recently at a Telus Spark Centre event with young parents and “newish Canadians” who “specifically cited efforts around the investments in innovation we’ve made so far, the seriousness with which we’re taking the pipeline matter” and the Climate Leadership Plan, “all of which is beginning to be noticed.”
A lovely anecdote that no doubt tugs at the heartstrings of Alberta NDP voters. Just like McCuaig-Boyd’s reasoned and logical Postmedia column.
Now, compare that to Cattaneo’s declaration of political war: “McCuaig-Boyd argues that the naysayers should ‘stop betting against Alberta.’ The naysayers are not betting against Alberta. They’re betting against bad policies and governments that fail to see the damage they create.”
Cattaneo may be on the Postmedia payroll, but she is a de facto surrogate for the rabidly conservative part of the Alberta oil patch in exactly the same way Kellyanne Conway was Donald Trump’s surrogate during the American election campaign. Fake news, alternate facts, deflect and confuse – attack, attack, attack.
That’s the strategy.
Sunshine and lollipops, unicorn farts and rainbows are not an adequate defence for some of the most innovative and effective energy slash climate policies in North America.
Policies that underpin significant oil sands production growth over the next 13 years and reduce the carbon-intensity of oil sands crudes to that of the average US light sweet crude, creating a tremendous marketing advantage in an increasingly carbon-constrained world.
The Alberta government needs an equivalent response to Cattaneo et. al. – something with a bit more bite than a puffball McCuaig-Boyd op-ed or Phillips working the “hotdog line” at a public event.
This is political war and it’s time for Notley, Phillips, and McCuaig-Boyd to gird their loins and engage the battle.