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National Post (Canada): Oil patch not filled with bogeymen

DON MARTIN in Ottawa

They huddle privately with Cabinet ministers, doing a poor-us whimper at the daunting challenge of being Canada’s greenhouse gas megaproducers amid the odd sniffle at the government’s hurtful income trust flip-flop.

And then Big Oil rolls out record profits and wonders why, amid the frantic greening of public consciousness, they’re wearing the black hat in Ottawa these days.

It’s subtle, except for the occasional swipe at capping the oil sands from the likes of Liberal MP Mark Holland, but the blue-eyed sheik’s reputation is taking a turn for the worse that goes beyond the usual angst of empty-tank motorists at a premium-priced gas pump.

They’re increasingly viewed by the opposition on Parliament Hill as carefree climate changers, enjoying the freedom to generate pollution, CO2 and obscene earnings without a corresponding societal responsibility to clean up their act.

And next week, the numbers come down giving them emission “intensity” reduction targets they will have to meet as Canada’s New Government scrambles to deal with Canadians’ New Top Priority.

The Calgary “summit” last Friday between three federal ministers and the oil industry seemed suspiciously benign given how soon these targets will be announced. It was shrugged off as “productive,” whatever that means.

But if the “intensity” reduction demands are harsher than expected— and there’s some suggestion that’s the case — there will be little sympathy for any oil-patch objections.

Now, the last thing Big Oil needs is a public relations rescue from me. They’ve got suites full of communications experts paid twice any columnist’s salary to spin their message.

But it’s a bad rap that Alberta energy sector wallows in petrodollars without any environmental sense.

Oil company Web sites salute and embrace the science of climate change far more vigorously than any other industrial sector or pre-2007 Conservative Cabinet minister.

British Petroleum, the largest solar power producer in the world, claims to have cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10% below 1998 base levels by 2002. Shell Canada has voluntarily promised to cut its base business emissions to six per cent below 1990 emissions by next year and will slash oil-sand emissions in half by 2010 using new technologies and energy efficiencies.

To find the largest wind generators in the country, look no further than Alberta-based TransAlta and Enbridge. Speaking of Enbridge, the Calgary firm is leading the way in developing lowemission fuel cells while recapturing enormous amounts of heat lost during pipeline depressurization.

Peer beneath the waves off the southern tip of Vancouver Island and you’ll find natural gas giant EnCana’s investment in turbines generating power from ocean tides even while the company plans to build one of Canada’s greenest office towers.

Contrast this sort of activism with, say, the employment giants of Montreal, where you’d have a hard time finding anything but trifle tokenism to reduce gas emissions on the home pages of Bombardier and Air Canada.

That’s why it was a bit rich to watch Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday put $350-million of his $1.5-billion Eco Trust into the thankful hands of Premier Jean Charest.

Quebec is a hydro-generating province with the easiest task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When asked what the money could be used for besides selling himself in the upcoming provincial election, Charest dredged up aUniversity of Sherbrooke project to create ethanol from wood, which will deliver a modest payoff compared to the gas reduction potential of investments in carbon sequestration or clean coal. That’s the difference between green politics and genuine environmentalism I guess.

But back in the halls of federal power, a polluter-pay mindset is taking root — a belief that anyone who discharges greenhouse gas into the air should pay the same as those who dump garbage into the ground. That’s bad news for the oil patch because pressure will surely grow to put a high price on carbon and make generators pay at the bank for their failure to save at the smokestack.

And that’s why the oil industry needs to do better than last fall’s Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lament. “Short of a complete collapse in the Canadian economy or the purchase of billions of dollars of foreign credits, we cannot meet the Kyoto target numbers,” its spokesman sighed to a parliamentary committee.

Perhaps he’s right. But a best effort beats a shrug of surrender every time.

Elections tend to create bogeymen. Alberta’s private health care agenda served that function in the past. But if a vote’s coming in 2007, Alberta’s blue-eyed sheiks will be the most tempting target for parties trying to grow big and green.

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

1 Comment on “National Post (Canada): Oil patch not filled with bogeymen”

  1. #1 Paul C.
    on Mar 14th, 2007 at 08:56

    If it’s illegal for me to dump my trash on your front lawn, why is it legal for industry to dump its trash in our air?

    All you Ayn Rand types don’t realise that there are more important things than unmitigated progress – and that growth for growths sake is cancer.

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