Column: Opposing the hydrocarbon industry while still driving your car

Alberta’s opposition MLAs Coffee Table Talk speaks to the need for the hydrocarbon industry

Over a year ago, a telltale picture appeared online of a young couple stranded at a truck stop on their way to a pipeline protest.

In the photo, he’s beside their SUV and she’s on the hood. Graffiti on the SUV’s back window shouts an anti-pipeline slogan. She’s holding a big cardboard sign that says: “Out of gas!” They’re obviously panhandling.

The picture demonstrates that many pipeline protestors want it both ways. They oppose pipelines, yet they want a tank of gas. Surely most protestors—in Canada at least— also covet the sustainability of social programs to which the hydrocarbon industry makes an enormous annual financial contribution. The benefits we all derive from petroleum are so significant that if Canadians were forced to live without them, our lives would be miserable.

Toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, electronics, telephones, computers, fertilizers, and thousands more products—including over-the-counter painkillers, eyeglasses, heart valves, and vitamins—all depend upon petroleum. Modern medicine is extremely dependent upon petroleum-based products, and numerous medicines come from petroleum derivatives.

At the same time, the fossil fuel industry enables people to prosper. The Financial Post quoting StatsCan says that from 2005-2015, median household income rose 10.8 per cent ($6,900). Yet those of us in resource-generating provinces did much better. During that same period, income went up by 37 per cent in Saskatchewan ($20,161), 20 per cent in Alberta ($18,151), and 29 per cent in Newfoundland ($15,068). So the industry not only provides important and useful products, it facilitates jobs and income.

Despite this, for ideological and bureaucratic reasons, some governments opposed an Alberta-to-Maritimes pipeline. Some even have the idea that this has stopped or slowed down the consumption of fossil fuel, which is ridiculous. Saudi oil tankers are constantly off Canada’s east coast because Quebec and Atlantic Canada import oil annually worth double-digit billions. Also, every reasoned environmentalist recognizes that if you stopped the fossil fuel industry dead-cold, you’d shatter the economy leaving vast numbers of people destitute, while putting an end to many government programs.

Canadian Press says that the hostile attitude of Canadian governments toward hydrocarbon companies has pushed vast amounts of investment outside the country. Many investors willing to risk money in Canada now face so much uncertainty, that they’ve moved their capital to countries where regulatory rules don’t keep changing—sometimes halfway through a project for which they thought the rules were already set.

Recently, governments have blocked energy development projects that would have brought $84 billion in new investment. Analysts said that exporting thousands of jobs to the U.S. is senseless, and the Toronto Sun said the $84 billion loss represents, “more than a third (36 per cent) of the value of the investments of all companies in Canada in 2016.”

Importantly, these derailed investments would have required zero public debt at a time when governments in Edmonton and Ottawa are deeply in the red. The Economist pegs the combined debt of all Canadian governments at $1.74 trillion, yet governments are deliberately chasing away investment and jobs.

Obviously, some people dislike the hydrocarbon industry, preferring to embrace renewables. Certainly, in time, this will occur. Yet the fact remains that the fossil fuel industry can’t stop on a dime. If it did, our lives would be pretty grim, because every day—just for plain living—we rely and depend upon thousands of useful products derived from the oil and gas industry.

Each week, a small group of Official Opposition MLAs get together to talk through a specific policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. Editorial committee members include Scott Cyr, Bonnyville Cold Lake; Grant Hunter, Cardston-Taber-Warner; Ron Orr, Lacombe-Ponoka; Mark Smith, Devon-Drayton Valley; Drew Barnes, Cypress Medicine Hat; Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler; and West Taylor, Battle River Wainwright.

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