With ongoing defiance of injunctions and protestors declaring they have no intentions to end the rail blockades quietly, the standoff over the Coastal GasLink Pipeline was on everyone’s mind as Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage took the podium at a PJVA event in Calgary last week. The Minister pulled no punches as she addressed the blockades and other critical issues in the Canadian Energy sector.
“Canada is in peril as railways and ports are shut down. Workers across the country have been laid off and critical goods are unable to move across the country. The economic toll is said to be $400 Million and counting. The rule of law and the constitutional foundation of our country in peace, order and good government is brought into question. We have a national government that is failing to act and failing to recognize the challenges that this is causing across our entire country. That’s what we are dealing with today after a decade long organized attack on our industry and it’s not a pretty story.”
Sonya Savage has extensive experience with pipeline challenges and successes. During her twelve years working in the pipeline industry, she has witnessed a decade long campaign to landlock the oilsands- the “Tar Sands Campaign”. She restated something that Canadians in many parts of Canada don’t know – that the Tar Sands Campaign was launched in New York City in 2008 when a couple of dozen environmental groups joined forces in a coordinated attack on the Oilsands with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars. She’s tracked the campaign’s steps to target the Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, Line 9 and Line 3, Keystone XL and the Trans Mountain Expansion. The campaign also targeted the National Energy Board- discrediting it and resulting in what is now Bill C-69. It left most major projects and potential investors in Canada in limbo for the last five years. She pointed out that the well-organized campaign has resulted in a lack of pipeline capacity, widening differentials, production curtailment and a job crisis in Alberta. It led to an increased inventory in inactive and orphan wells as companies struggled to obtain capital and financing. She acknowledged that the decade long campaign of organized opposition was ignored or underestimated by Industry and Government alike and heavily contributed to economic struggles and the situation we are dealing with today across the economy, with blockades paralyzing the country.
Her solutions? First, to vigorously defend the exclusive provincial jurisdiction under the Canadian constitution that gives provinces the right to develop their natural resources under section 92A (added in 1982) confirming exclusive provincial jurisdiction (the Peter Lougheed amendment). In addition, she plans to vigorously challenge Bill C-69, which added In Situ production to the list of projects that will be assessed and either approved or not approved by the Federal Government adding that In Situ has never had a touch point that would be assessed by the Federal government.
C-69 also added gas-fired electricity generation to the project list, which is set in our constitution to be the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Minister Savage insisted the Federal government needs to be reminded that those projects are with the jurisdiction of the provinces. The good news is that Ontario and Saskatchewan have joined Alberta in the constitutional challenge on C-69, and actually, 9 out of 10 provinces now support Alberta’s position on C-69 – the outlier being the province of BC. Other actions are part of the strategy to make Alberta a positive business environment and an attractive jurisdiction such as lowering the corporate tax rate and reducing red tape are in the mix along with an overhaul of the Alberta Energy regulator to create a certain and predictable process to make Alberta competitive.
“We are also closely watching what the Federal government does with Teck Resources Frontier Mine approval. A rejection of that project by the Federal government would not only be, I believe unconstitutional, but it would tear apart national unity and it would most certainly lead to more constitutional challenges, more uncertainty, more unpredictability, and challenges right across the entire country. So, in Alberta, we’re going to defend our jurisdiction with absolutely everything we have. We fought these battles forty years ago and got section 92A into the constitution. Peter Lougheed fought those battles and today, forty years later, we’re not going to give up one inch of ground to the Federal government.”
Savage stated that much of the current Industry malaise is rooted in the Energy sector’s approaches to communications over the last decade and outlined strategies.
“We’re communicating better to counter the type of myths and lies about Alberta’s Oil and Gas Sector- the types of lies that went unchallenged for over a decade. For instance, just last month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for the cancellation of the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain Pipelines. It’s absolutely absurd that this committee would single out Canada. Canada – one of the only countries in the entire world that recognizes Indigenous rights in its constitution – one of the greatest champions in the world of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. So, we highlighted the work done by Coastal Gaslink to earn the support of all twenty Elected First Nations along the pipeline’s route and the work that Trans Mountain has done with communities along its route to support that project. It led the UN committee to admit that it wasn’t even aware that there was Indigenous support for these projects and furthermore they admitted that they had done absolutely nothing to verify the communique that they put out.”
She addressed questions about the Canadian Energy Centre, that like any start-up organization has experienced some hiccups.
“If the events of the last week demonstrate anything (public protests blockading Rail etc. across Canada) it’s that we need the Canadian Energy Centre- we need to be able to communicate, we need it to be successful. There are those who have worked relentlessly intending to make the CEC unsuccessful. They are the same people who oppose Oil and Gas. Some of it comes from organized campaigns, like the Tar Sands Campaign. They were always going to target the Canadian Energy Centre to make it fail. We have to make it succeed and it’s my goal to ensure it has the tools to succeed. You are going to see some more focus in the coming days on Energy literacy, on Data and Research and Ad Campaigns.”
A big part of the solution is the transformation of the energy sector by the Alberta Government’s development of an ESG strategy- to tell the world and investors that the industry in Alberta produces energy in the most environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner through a combination of policy, technology and market-driven solutions including Net Zero goals. In addressing a question about what the Provincial ESG program will look like for Operators, the answer was the strategy development process will be inclusive.
“We have a working group working on a strategy with Operators and David Knight Legg and the Premier’s Office have been working to develop what an ESG strategy will look like. Whatever we do in this province we are going to do with input from our producers. That’s because we’re doing this for our Oil and Gas sector so we can have the ability to grow it – not just continue at the levels we are producing now. Here in Alberta, we have the third-largest reserves of oil anywhere in the world. Over 170 Billion barrels in the Oilsands. We know we want to grow them. We have to grow them – They belong to Albertans. But to do it, we need an ESG strategy, that shows the world that they’ll want to continue to invest in Alberta. “
Very big challenges ahead – Glad to hear we have the talent and experience of Minister Savage, together with the entire Alberta government relentlessly focused on addressing them.
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the Energy Industry. She is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Petroleum Joint Venture Association.