Pipe sections for the Trans Mountain pipeline are unloaded in Edson, Alta., Tuesday, June 18, 2019. North America’s polarizing pipeline battles have seen many venues — from the Prime Minister’s Office and the U.S. State Department to the windswept plains of Nebraska and Minnesota to judge’s chambers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Pipe sections for the Trans Mountain pipeline are unloaded in Edson, Alta., Tuesday, June 18, 2019. North America’s polarizing pipeline battles have seen many venues — from the Prime Minister’s Office and the U.S. State Department to the windswept plains of Nebraska and Minnesota to judge’s chambers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Look to next-gen oil and gas leaders to end North America’s energy stalemate: experts

The irreconcilable differences are rooted in the regional nature of the energy industry in both countries

North America’s polarizing pipeline battles have seen many venues — from the Prime Minister’s Office and the U.S. State Department to the windswept plains of Nebraska and Minnesota to judge’s chambers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

The irreconcilable differences are rooted in the regional nature of the energy industry in both countries, experts say, with climate-change hardliners on one side and oil-and-gas traditionalists on the other.

The solution, when it does come, will likely be not from the courtroom, but the classrooms producing the energy sector’s next corporate suite.

“We’ve got a very smart cohort of next-generation oil and gas leaders,” said Peter Tertzakian, an energy economist, author and adjunct business professor at the University of Calgary.

“This very smart and energetic cohort is also very frustrated, if not confused, because of all of the negative stigma around the business.”

As young people with a bred-in-the-bone generational concern about climate change, they’re also very motivated to find ways to confront that challenge from inside an industry long seen as its anathema.

“They’re trying to figure out everything from how to effectively pivot their organizations into that new transitional world, and how to also change some of the narratives.”

Those narratives are often deeply frustrating to people in places like Alberta and Texas, where the fossil-fuel industry has been part of daily life for most of the last 150 years.

But because pipelines, by their very nature, deliver the spoils of the Alberta oilsands to and through parts of the continent that can see little to no clear benefit, conflict is inevitable.

“You had this vast set of interest groups that lay between the resource and the market, that were basically not getting anything out of the deal,” said Andrew Leach, an energy economist who teaches at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“There’s no, like, shut-it-down-tomorrow view of the world in all but the fringes in Alberta, whereas outside of Alberta it’s really easy to say, ‘Yeah, just don’t do that.’”

That seems to be what’s happening in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has suddenly revoked a 1953 agreement that allowed Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 pipeline between Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ont., to move oil and gas underneath the Straits of Mackinac, an ecologically delicate section of the Great Lakes.

Whitmer, a close ally of Joe Biden who was on his list of potential running mates, announced the decision less than a week after he was declared the winner of last year’s presidential election.

Two months later, Biden famously cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline expansion, which aimed to move more than 800,000 barrels a day of Alberta oilsands bitumen to refineries on the U.S. East Coast.

Shutting down Line 5 after more than 65 years would trigger a devastating energy and economic crisis in both countries, Enbridge vice-president Vern Yu told a House of Commons committee last week.

Existing domestic lines are already at or near their peak capacity, and given public attitudes towards pipelines in Canada, it would be impossible to develop an alternative line that avoids crossing the border, he added.

“Building a brand new pipeline across Canada would be as big a challenge as keeping this existing pipeline operating — in fact, it might actually even be a bigger challenge to get unanimity from Canadians to do that,” he said.

“We’ve seen multiple occasions where we can’t as a country get behind building a pipeline. So it’s important to keep the existing ones up and running.”

Line 5 isn’t the only cross-border hotspot.

In Minnesota, more than 200 people have been arrested in recent months as Indigenous protests escalate against Enbridge’s $10-billion upgrade of an existing stretch of the network, this one known as Line 3.

Protesters have been sitting in trees, shackling themselves to equipment and taking up residence inside sections of pipe, organizers say.

Then there’s Dakota Access, a 1,900-kilometre line between North Dakota and Illinois that faces a reckoning April 9. That is the court-ordered deadline for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide whether to shut down the pipeline and await a thorough environmental review.

The DAPL case is widely seen as a likely bellwether for the pipeline industry in the U.S., where both Vice-President Kamala Harris and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, America’s first Indigenous cabinet member, support shutting it down.

“The quarrel is not with the pipeline companies, the quarrel is with the producers, and the product they produce,” Tertzakian said — a “ridiculous proposition” based on the premise that ending oil production in Canada will somehow solve the climate change problem.

Instead, the challenge going forward is to reframe the debate to focus on which companies should be the ones meeting the demand for fossil fuels, which experts say will persist for decades to come.

“Clearly, who should supply the oil are the companies that are walking the talk in the world and making a concerted effort to reduce … emissions,” he said.

“Those are the companies that should be left standing — the best players on the team.”

Even deep in the heart of Texas — an oil-and-gas state laced by 770,000 kilometres of pipeline, nearly as much in all of Canada — energy educators are beginning to see evidence of a shift.

Richard Denne, director of the TCU Energy Institute at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Tex., said what used to be a diehard Texas student body is increasingly from liberal-minded California.

“We’re starting to pivot to include much more of the renewables,” Denne said in an interview, noting that one of his geology classes, once focused primarily on petrochemicals, is evolving.

“I’m going to pivot that to be less oil and gas, and more of the other — uranium and the rare earths required for renewables and hydro and geothermal and all that kind of stuff, so that they get more of a broad brush and not just oil and gas.”

READ MORE: Canada, Germany sign green-energy deal in bid to power fledgling hydrogen sectors

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

oil and gas

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This photo shows crews the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents early Sunday morning. (Central Saanich Fire/Department Twitter)
Central Saanich rallies around couple who lost home of 25 years

A GoFundMe campaign is currently underway for Carla and Brian Wallace

The government map (as of April 22) showing vaccine availability doesn’t have any Saanich Peninsula pharmacies listed, but the situation is fluid, and many readers have already registered. (Province of B.C. screenshot)
Vaccine availability a fluid situation for Saanich Peninsula

Government site may not show pharmacies, but registering still an option

Volunteers with the Esquimalt Farmers Market will be on hand at Bullen Field to direct attendees and clarify public health protocols. The market runs Thursdays now through Sept. 16, from 4:30-7:30 p.m. (Facebook/Esquimalt Farmers Market)
Esquimalt Farmers Market continues tonight at Bullen Field

Award-winning market features farm-fresh products, food trucks, COVID-19 protocols for safety

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read