The energy sector has too often made a bad assumption; focusing on politicians and opponents as intermediaries to garner public support. A better choice would be active, broad, regular and direct engagement with the public. Who better than the public, as the counter party to energy, who receives its benefits and can directly agree with balancing the impacts, it’s the public that is the best choice to engage.
In political contests political parties benefit by attracting marginal voters, those single issue voters, who may change support on that single issue. Dr. Thomas Sowell, Economist at Stanford University, notes all politicians oppose special interests, those that support their opponent, while they embrace supporters who embrace them. Supply management in Canada is a voting block that in particular is an example of special interests accruing benefits that harm all others but receive these benefits by being astute in applying political pressure. In the US, the NRA is a current extreme case.
The energy sector has made the mistake of repeatedly seeking ENGO support. ENGO’s have skillfully played the energy sector with ever increasing demands, but with no compromise. Tzeporah Berman, the ex-Co-Chair of the oil sands advisory council, who post the establishment of the Alberta Carbon Tax and Carbon cap, resigned as co-chair, to continue to oppose pipelines, a poster child and example of negotiate, take what’s offered, then demand more.
The Pembina Institute is another example who often declares neutrality, yet always opposes the energy sector in public releases. During the Royalty review Pembina advocated for harsh terms. As BC moves to LNG, Pembina opposes exports. These two examples of many show how the energy sector has been wasting their efforts and has forgone the natural partnership with the public.
The public, who looks for outside information, becomes confused where the industry and government have legitimized positions and claims by ENGO’s vs. opposing them. The sad examples of claims on the Trans Mountain pipeline that it is unsafe, tankers materially put the coast at risk, dilbit is dangerous, are nonsense. Yet the industry and governments have allowed such misinformation to be legitimized by legitimizing the ENGO’s who spread the misinformation.
An emerging example is methane regulation, of course only targeting the energy sector. Legitimizing environmental defence as some neutral party has led to the federal liberal’s and Alberta NDP to pandering both to the special interest and legitimizing the direct foreign interference of a foreign ENGO in the design of a Canadian policy. As Dr. Tombe an economist at the University of Calgary has noted, the volume targeting of ENGO designs is bad policy. Applying the value of mitigation as the governor of the costs of a policy, is disregarded by environmental defence who prefers targets which are a form of taxation without control. In the case of methane regulation estimates are $125/tonne CO2 equivalent for environmental defence’s view of handicapping Canadian energy, well above the carbon tax level set at $50/tonne, this is simply not reasonable.
What the energy sector needs to address is a continuous and broad program of communication of facts, support for academic research and discussion, as well as investment in communities. Reaching out directly is a better path to success for the energy sector. Actively engage with the public and educational institutions they are the natural partners of the industry. Stop engaging with and legitimizing ENGO’s, hostage payments simply lead to new hostage payments.
Glen Schmidt is President of GCS Resource Management Ltd., an oil and gas technical and business advisory services company in Calgary, AB