Congratulations, Canada…You Played Yourself

by Jess Sinclair

Professional services firm Ernst & Young has been engaging American energy consumers over the past year to gage perceptions on various sources of energy, namely oil and gas . The firm has been releasing the results incrementally throughout 2017. The respondents were broken up into several age categories, and the results are generally unsurprising:

– 71% of teens surveyed believe renewable fuels such as solar and wind are the fuels of their generation.
– 56% of teens surveyed believe oil and gas are the fuels of their parents’ generation.
– 59% of teens surveyed believe coal is the fuel of their grandparents’ generation.

Much has been made of the idea that oil and gas is a “sunset industry”. Purveyors of electric vehicles and pipeline protesters alike have staked their visions of the future, and occasionally, their livelihoods, on the notion. And these ideas have clearly become part of the zeitgeist for many millennials and centennials. These groups and their perceptions matter. Together, they wield immense disruptive power in the digital age, and their numbers – they make up as much as 25% of the population of North America – surpassed those of the baby boomer generation around 2016.

In the STEM fields that have traditionally led to gainful employment in Canada’s oil and gas industry, many are confounded by a generation that associates our sector with pipeline agitators more than it does remediation efforts and improvements to our collective quality of life. “How can these kids protest our industry when they use the fruits of it so extensively?” is a familiar refrain among middle-aged engineers and drillers. “They’re on their iPhones all day. Don’t they realize where that technology comes from?”

In some cases, a lack of energy literacy persists. But I would also suggest that often, as with many generations before them, young and idealistic North Americans feel that the ends justifies the means. They see nothing intellectually inconsistent about protesting pipelines or lobbying for the phase-out of internal combustion engines while making extensive use of technology derived from oil and gas because they want to contribute in any way they can to a healthier planet.

And they’ve been sold a bill of goods by anti-development protesters and “wave-of-the-future” renewables corporations looking for government handouts.

The reality is, of course, that global demand for oil and gas will only increase over the next generation. Specifically in the area of transportation, we are nowhere near being able to replace fossil fuels as sources of energy, according to the International Energy Institute. And pipelines? They are far safer and less GHG-intensive as a means of transporting oil and gas (which, again, will continue to be in high demand) than any alternative methods. Those who believe that limiting pipeline capacity for Canada’s oilsands crude will somehow hasten the transition to renewable energy are sorely mistaken. So far, this strategy has produced two primary outcomes; more oil being transported by truck and rail (less safe, more GHG-intensive); and more being imported by Canada from corrupt and repressive regimes.

In the parlance of our times; “congratulations, you played yourself.”

Renewables (namely hydro) are an important part of Canada’s energy mix. Solar is being scaled at a remarkable rate across the planet, with and without government subsidies. The world’s energy landscape is changing, and this is an exciting process to be a part of. But, again, oil and gas have a critical role to play. One of Canada’s largest investors in renewable energy capacity is Enbridge – a pipeline company. That firm’s leadership team clearly understands that the process of producing the energy Canadians use every day is a holistic one, not a zero-sum game where certain forms of energy can be cast off in favour of others.

Industry’s commitment to conservation doesn’t end there. The Canadian Oilsands Innovation Alliance, a group of oilsands producers, has been recognized globally for its work ranging from habitat restoration to tailings management. Canada’s drilling industry has seen the amount of diesel required to drill an extended-reach horizontal well cut by as much as 70%.

As an older millennial employed by the oil and gas industry, I desperately want to see some logic and decency return to the conversation on Canada’s energy diet. This holiday season, there will be families sitting around their dining tables arguing about pipelines, of all things. The divide will be largely generational, and it will be as if those sparring with each other are speaking different languages. So let’s agree to keep to the facts. Because most Canadians, from boomers to centennials, care about our collective future, our prosperity, and the viability of our shared environment.