It’s that time of the year when many people feel the need to forecast what will happen in the coming year. It’s just another dumb habit that permeates the media as we pore through the articles, nodding in agreement or snorting in disgust, and adding not one iota of value to our lives.
But it should be safe to say that it will be an interesting year in the energy business. Some aspects will remain boringly and irritatingly similar, like the irrational disrespect the general population shows for that which keeps them alive (fossil fuels, of course). Other trends may shift to a more helpful position. Cold weather has returned, reminding people that natural gas can be a very good thing. Prices have responded and the gas business is showing signs of life.
We may be in sight of peak environmentalism, not in terms of an apex of people caring about the planet, but in terms of the environmental industry finally fatiguing the public. This may be wishful thinking, but several developments could be unfolding that will help sanity return to the debate.
The new US president is presumably going to be more energy friendly, and odds are good that he will approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Prime Minister Trudeau has approved two Canadian pipelines that will significantly help with likely Canadian bottlenecks. And the Bakken pipeline currently being thwarted in the US should come to life; it’s hard to imagine a multi-billion dollar project that’s nearly complete being shelved because 30 miles or so of the right of way can’t be resolved.
These are all pipeline-related and sort of inconsequential to the world at large, but may be significant in terms of turning the tide of public opinion. If these projects proceed, the public will be forced to face the reality that these pipelines are utterly insignificant in any fight against global warming, and that if they’re built absolutely nothing bad will happen. One might choose to calculate the theoretical environmental negatives against them, which are comically absurd when viewed alongside a photo of downtown Beijing these days. If every emission from the oil sands was funneled into downtown Fort McMurray, it still wouldn’t look that bad.
Another indicator that the tide may be turning: A few weeks ago, the research firm Ipsos conducted a poll showing that twice as many Canadians approve of the federal government’s approval of two pipelines than oppose it. In British Columbia, the epicentre of the Canadian environmental movement, more than half the population approved of Trudeau’s approvals.
What is most significant about this poll is the fact that most media outlets refused to cover it’s results, which they surely would have if the great masses had rejected the pipelines. That bias is not new, but what is new is some evidence that the public isn’t buying all the hysteria. This may be an indication that the general public finally smells a rat with respect to the media’s relentless fear-mongering over the safest form of mass liquids transportation known to mankind. The CBC for example, at the same time chose to run with a bizarrely incoherent story entitled “B.C. oil spill response times make Trans Mountain Pipeline ‘a ticking time bomb'”.
Two things make the article profoundly stupid. First is inclusion in the title of the quote about a “ticking time bomb” when that phrase is never even suggested in the article. Second is inclusion of a quote from a BC environmentalist that “there is no such thing as an oil spill clean up” which is news to the thousands of people who have successfully cleaned up oil spills, and the billions who watched them do it. In other words, we all knew that at some point the fear-mongering would go too far, and the inevitable tipping point may have been reached. The article frets that tanker traffic would go up by 300 tankers per year, or less than one per day; the average citizen can find out in 45 seconds that the Port of Vancouver handles over 3,000 per year meaning tanker traffic will go from about 9 per day to about 10. Not quite a traffic jam.
It should be stressed though that the brouhaha was not all bad; environmental standards have certainly risen, and BC will have cutting-edge emergency response technology implemented. That will benefit the province beyond pipeline spills as emergency response infrastructure can provide benefits beyond petroleum related incidents.
Finally, at risk of getting close to a prediction, one might hope that relief is on the horizon for the beleaguered energy industry. It’s not a partisan hope either; the industry contributes massively to North American economies (in addition to feeding and heating us of course, but must try not to belabour that point) and a healthy energy industry provides widespread benefits.
Ok this is too tempting. I’ll make a few small predictions and join the club.
I predict that the BOE Report will continue to grow and be the most relevant energy news site on the web, and that many of us will be fatter in January than we are in December. Thanks for reading and enjoy the holidays.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here