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

Abby Dyer of Shawnigan Lake School. (Submitted)
Shawnigan Lake School poet wins to prize

Abby Dyer has won first place in the Senior Poem category in the Legion’s Youth Remembrance Contest

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has applied for a $199,000 grant to upgrade its emergency communication systems that are used during such events as the major windstorm that hit the Valley in 2018 (pictured).
CVRD looks to upgrade emergency communications with grant

Staff say communications issues plague emergency response efforts in area

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders attended to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Brent Clancy, president of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, takes down the signs at the Lake Cowichan Visitor Centre, which closed its doors for good on Jan. 31. Mayor Bob Day says the possible creation of a Town tourism committee is not a response to the closure. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Town of Lake Cowichan looking to form tourism and housing committees

Decision not related to the Lake Cowichan Visitor Information Centre closure

“Representing the school district, legion, and Kaatza Station Museum left to right are Georgie Clark of the museum, Wilma Rowbottom of School District #66 and Ernie Spencer, representing the Legion. The museum and Legion, along with the Village will each take a piece of the old wood shop.” (The Lake News)
Lake Flashback: Soapboxes, woodshop split, taxes down

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

People take part in an anti-curfew protest in Montreal on Sunday April 11, 2021. Hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal tonight in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giuseppe Valiante
VIDEO: Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read