If you work in Canada’s oil and gas sector – or in fact any natural resource sector – you probably don’t have the media access of some of the biggest critics of your activities.
Here I’m thinking of people like Leo DiCaprio, Neil Young or Jane Fonda. That’s no news flash; we know it’s just the way it’s been with celebrities who wander into discussions they don’t know much about.
Sector employees and contractors, as well as indirect providers of goods and services across the country, are busy going about their jobs in order to help drive our society forward. They’re supplying the energy, food, minerals and industrial products that build our society.
That leaves critics like Leo, Neil and Jane to fill the information vacuum. Now you can add “Science Guy” Bill Nye to that list of ill-informed critics with plenty of time on their hands.
Nye has so much idle time that he says he waved his usual $25K-$50K speaking fee to drop in on university students and chat with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa recently – apparently free of charge.
At first, I thought this made-for-TV moment with the hip young prime minister and the comedy-writer-turned-TV-scientist might be a chance to hold a genuine, honest discussion about pipelines. I thought we’d have a sincere airing on things like the stringent environmental standards our oil and gas sector operates under, and how foreign oil suppliers to Canada don’t have to follow those same rigorous measures.
I thought it would be a good opportunity for Nye to state he opposes foreign oil imports on environmental grounds because those foreign suppliers aren’t forced to account for all upstream and downstream emissions, as Canadian pipeline companies must do under a new – and some say, unfair – federal government prerequisite to pipeline construction.
As columnist Lorne Gunter recently pointed out, pipeline companies must take responsibility for all the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the oil or bitumen as it is extracted from the ground, even before it enters their proposed pipeline – and they must own the emissions after the oil leaves their line to be refined or used for power.
I wish Bill Nye, in a scientifically unbiased fashion, could have pointed out that no such federal requirement exists for imported oil travelling in Canadian pipelines. I wish he could have candidly wondered out loud why no environmental protest exists against those imports. I wish he could have questioned why Washington Governor Jay Inslee opposes Kinder Morgan’s expansion project while the state of Washington operates eight refineries along its shores, and for its supply each of those refineries relies entirely on oil by rail, oil by ocean-going tankers and oil from the current Trans Mountain pipeline.
Of course none of that came up.
Let’s be clear. Nye is no superstar. He’s risen from the ranks of comedy writer with a regular local Seattle TV gig to that of a failed contestant on Dancing with the Stars, season 17. He’s not in Leo’s league.
But the TV role he claims to play is that of honest broker. He sometimes seems to have an open mind on controversial issues, having stated in a recent book that he changed his mind on the issue of genetic modification, and now supports GMOs.
So, I thought there was a chance he might take a moderate, factual view on the pipeline issue. But then, during the on-stage chat with the PM in Ottawa, Nye said this: “I’ve been to Fort McMurray, Alberta. It really is an amazing place in the most troubling way…” Huh?
As if that statement wasn’t sufficiently ill-informed and just plain wrong, then Nye added this: “…But this pipeline… Morgan Kinder… “ That’s right. “Morgan Kinder” were his exact words.
To the PM’s credit, Trudeau pushed back on Nye’s knee-jerk opposition to pipelines, clearly stating a pipeline is safer than trains and trucks, that pipelines are carefully monitored and maintained, and that ocean protection is at the forefront of Canada’s strategy
The good news? It turns out Nye is an amateur when it comes to participating in Canada’s pipeline discussion.
But, with Scotiabank placing a price tag of $15.6 billion this year in Canadian economic losses as a result of our inability to get the Trans Mountain expansion project done, and with the federal government slow-walking the project, we can’t afford to take any solace in the fact TV’s Science Guy seems to be in over his head.
Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder/spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer organization that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it.