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

Dr. Christine Perkins is the new superintendent of schools for the Vernon School District, effective Aug. 1. Perkins moves to the North Okanagan from the Kootenay Lake School District in Nelson. (Vernon School District photo)
Vernon School District names new superintendent

Dr. Christine Perkins moves from Kootenay Lake district to take over from the retiring Joe Rogers

Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy and board member Kyle Britton accept a $43,400 grant from the BC Arts Council one-time StrongerBC fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic April 9, 2021. (VPAG)
$43K boost for Vernon gallery

Province backs local art gallery with one-time pandemic grant

A 46-year-old man from Armstrong died in Revelstoke hospital after being injured in the Lumby area. (File photo)
Armstrong snowmobiler dies in Revelstoke hospital

46-year-old man injured in Tsuius Mountain area of Monashees around Lumby area

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Spallumcheen landlord’s home trashed by tenants

Rooms filled with junk, garbage, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
The Red Pill Rapper performs to the crowd gathered for the Rally For Food Security at Blackburn Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Kristal Burgess Photography)
Suspicion of ‘fake news media’ makes rally uncomfortable for Salmon Arm event photographer

More than 300 people counted at city park for ‘Rally For Food Security’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read