Rise of the new Alberta energy populism: Is oil/gas industry weaponizing Vivian Krause’s conspiracy nonsense?

Protesters delaying construction of Trans-Peco natural gas pipeline from Texas to Mexico

Every major American pipeline that crosses state borders is opposed, litigated, or protested. – Prof. Flatt

Vivian Krause on her own is harmless. Her wacky conspiracy theories about American “dark money” being responsible for delays to BC pipelines projects are about as credible as political analysis from the likes of Infowars’s Alex Jones. But Vivian Krause and her arguments being weaponized in support of Alberta energy populism and handed a soapbox by fawning members of the Alberta media is another thing altogether.

The Vancouver blogger almost singlehandedly feeds Alberta’s victimhood complex, which is one of the principal characteristics of modern populism.

Vivian Krause.

For Donald Trump, it’s immigrants. For pro-Brexit Britons, it’s Europe. And for the Alberta oil and gas industry, its boosters, supportive politicians, and the obsequious scribblers at Postmedia newspapers, the boogeyman is the Rockefeller Foundation and other US charities funding Canadian professional activists supposedly taking advantage of well-intentioned but naive Canadians.

The problem for the energy populists is that Krause is wrong. And how she’s wrong is important.

There are three parts to her argument.

One, that American environmental charities are funding Canadian anti-pipeline activities to the tune of $90 million over 10 years. Her claim is based upon years of combing through tax records and financial statements. Let’s assume that this information is accurate.

Two, that the US money is mostly responsible for opposition to projects like the Trans Mountain expansion, the 590,000 b/d pipeline to Burnaby, BC. This claim is specious at best because it ignores the strength of local opposition led by coastal First Nations and lower mainland residents.

Yes, activists are part of this opposition. No, they are not the driving force of the protests, according to Prof. David Tindall, a UBC sociologist who studies environmental protest movements.

“Even if there is American money coming into Canada for this sort of thing, the actual people who go on big marches in Vancouver, they are kind of rank-and-file members of the movement from all different walks in life,” he said in an interview.

“Even if there is American money, there is American money on both sides.”

Three, American environmental groups don’t protest American pipelines. “We’ve been too complacent and too Canadian for too long,” Krause says. “We need to think like the Texans.”

But this part of Krause’s patter is utter nonsense.

Source: Railroad Commission of Texas.

Alberta is landlocked, whereas Texas has a large coast with huge ports and can lay pipe to tidewater without crossing state lines. Review and approval is the purview of the Texas Railroad Commission, just like pipelines built within Alberta boundaries require approval from only the Alberta Energy Regulator.

When was the last time protesters targeted a proposed pipeline within Alberta’s borders? The same holds true for Texas.

But two Texas-based energy law scholars say that once pipelines cross state borders they are always opposed by local, state, and national groups, often using federal legislation that energy-friendly President Donald Trump cannot change or eliminate with an executive order.

“There certainly is opposition to pipelines in the United States and NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] is actually a much bigger stumbling block to approval than the Canadian environmental assessment rules,” says Prof. James Coleman of the Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University based in Dallas.

Victor Flatt is the Dwight Olds Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center. He points out that American pipeline projects are more likely to be opposed by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, whose strategy is to litigate rather than take direct action like Greenpeace.

“Those are legal organizations that, if they decide something is going to harm the environment whether it is locally or globally, that they will use legal methods. They are the ones that are going to be using NEPA and they will often partner with local organizations to represent them,” Flatt told Energi News in an interview.

Prof. Victor Flatt, University of Houston.

Every major pipeline project that crosses state lines is opposed or protested in some way, he says.

“There’s an Atlantic Coast pipeline (between West Virginia and North Carolina),  the big natural gas line that is being fought tooth and nail, from local all the way through national. There’s talk of expanding the Colonial Gas pipeline, which carries gasoline and refined products from Houston to New Jersey, and there are a lot of protests against that,” he said.

“If we think about the other big pipeline projects – Enbridge Line 3, Dakota Access, Keystone XL, TransWestern – all of them are being protested. Some more than others.”

Krause’s claim that Canada is being unfairly targeted and American pipelines get a pass is simply not true, according to Flatt and Coleman.

“Opposition [to pipelines] is going to happen in a free and democratic country. People are going to protest. Not even populist anti-climate actors like Trump can change that,” concludes Flatt.

Here’s another inconvenient truth for Krause: more Canadians still support than oppose Trans Mountain Expansion, even in British Columbia.

An August survey from Abacus Data found that 34 per cent of Canadians favour the pipeline project, 20 per cent oppose, and the remaining 46 per cent have no views on the topic.

Even in BC, supporters outnumber opponents 33 per cent to 28 per cent.

If Krause is correct about the amount of anti-pipeline money that has flowed over the 49th parallel into Canada, American charities appear to have received very poor value for their investment.

Unfortunately, data and facts are irrelevant in the face of Alberta’s growing anger.

Great swaths of downtown Calgary offices are empty because oil and gas companies didn’t rehire like they normally do when prices rise after a bust. Dozens of junior and midcap producers are bleeding red ink and barely hanging on, spending only the absolute minimum of capital needed to sustain operations. As a consequence, four years after global oil prices cratered, the service sector hasn’t been able to raise rates (which were slashed 40% or more) and many smaller companies are on life support.

They want answers, preferably bite-sized and easy to digest, and a villain. Every good political narrative needs a bad guy. Trump needed immigrants for his populist narrative. Energy populists are using environmental charities and the activists they finance. And that populism was front and centre at the recent Energy Relaunch event organized by New West Public Affairs in Calgary and attended by the industry elite and Alberta politicians.

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney addressing the Energy Relaunch conference.

It is time, folks, that we stopped being passive, defensive and apologetic. I submit that it is time that we used all of the political and economic levers at our disposal,” Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, told the audience.

He acknowledged Krause’s research, especially the payments from the Tides American foundation to Tides Canada, but admitted the “ultimate source of the US foundations funds are obscure.”

Nevertheless, Kenney outlined a “pushback strategy” that included using taxpayer funds to subsidize legal attacks on pipeline opponents. This would include funding pro-pipeline First Nations lawsuits: “If I’m Premier, we will be writing checks to allow them to go to court. We will be supporting pro-development litigation.”

Essentially, Kenney is proposing to use the Alberta government to punish activities that are legal in Canada and inherently democratic on behalf of an industry that is perfectly capable of defending its own interests on the west coast and elsewhere.

So, welcome to populist politics Alberta-style, folks, where facts are optional and indignation is a constant state of mind, thanks in part to Vivian Krause. Don’t say that you weren’t warned.

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  1. Why is Alberta not burning the oil, gas, tarsands, and producing electricity, whicj requires no pipeline to sell?

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