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

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood, this includes protecting one’s home by moving equipment and other assets from these areas to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-normal spring flood season

High-streamflow advisory issued for the Cariboo Region and areas including Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

File
TNRD to test emergency alert app

The Voyent Alert! emergency notification will be sent April 23.

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Large police presence at Kamloops mall following alleged armed robbery

Police were called to a business near the mall about 12:45 p.m.

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read