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

Supporters gather outside GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alta., on Sunday, April 11, 2021. The church has been fenced off by police and Alberta Health Services in violation of COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

GraceLife Church and its pastor, are charged for holding services that break health restrictions

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

File photo
A man walks into a Cargill meat processing factory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Alberta meat plant, site of COVID-19 outbreak last year, to get vaccination clinics

Nearly half of the 2,200 workers at the Cargill facility contracted the novel coronavirus and two employees died last April

Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, left, Grand Chief Arthur Noskey, centre and Chief Aaron Young during a meeting with First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs in Edmonton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta must retract Forest Act before it becomes law: Treaty 8 grand chief

‘We are asking (the government) to pull this back and consult with us,’ says Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 First Nations

A cross made out of hockey sticks at a makeshift memorial is silhouetted against the setting sun at the intersection of a fatal bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., on Monday, April, 9, 2018. A virtual tribute is planned to mark the third anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VIDEO: Humboldt Broncos team to be honoured on third anniversary of fatal bus crash

16 people died and 13 were injured when a semi-trailer ran a stop sign into the path of the hockey team’s bus

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Stettler’s own Renegade Station is kicking off the spring season with a brand new single - to be released April 9th. (Photo submitted)
A brand new single is on the way from Stettler-based band Renegade Station

Free Free Free hits all streaming platforms on April 9th

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau waits for a virtual meeting to begin with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa, Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa mulls exempting more workers from Canada-U.S. border shutdown: Garneau

Canada-U.S. border has been closed to people travelling for vacations and other non-essential visits since March 2020

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls: Statistics Canada

Figure released this morning outpaced the 259,000 gain seen in February

FILE - This file photo dated July 10, 1947 shows the official photograph of Britain’s Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, Lieut. Philip Mountbatten in London. Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died aged 99. (AP Photo/File)
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 99

Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year before being released on March 16

Campbell River city council will continue its 2020 policy of waiving late fees and NSFs. (Mirror File photo)
53% of Canadians teetering the brink of insolvency: survey

A majority of Canadians admit they’re just $200 away from not being able to pay their monthly bills

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Kenney faces criticism from doctors, his own caucus, over new COVID-19 health rules

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants

Most Read