Energy industry-climate change called balancing act

Alberta premier recognizes that the energy sector must focus on the environment, but he says oil and gas companies already do a good job

Alberta must be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time” when it comes to promoting projects such as oil and gas pipelines, said premier Jason Kenney.

Access to capital for the energy sector increasingly “requires a demonstration that companies and governments are serious about improving their environmental performance — reducing their CO2 emissions in particular — so we have to aspire to do better,” he said.

But he argued Alberta’s oil and gas companies are already “the best performers in the world among environmental, social and governance metrics, which is so important.”

Kenney spoke as part of a Q and A session Oct. 17 during the annual general meeting of the governing United Conservative Party (UCP). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was solely held online for the first time starting Oct. 16, with about 1,400 party members registering for the virtual event.

Despite the current tough times faced by the province, Kenney has said agriculture has been a powerhouse for Alberta’s economy. The agri-food sector employs about 77,000 people and contributes $9.2 billion to the province’s gross domestic product.

The industry has been the focus of several recent provincial announcements. These include $815 million to upgrade the province’s irrigation system through a partnership that includes the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

But agriculture was only briefly addressed during the Q and A on Oct. 17, and not by Kenney. As part of a short visit by Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole during the Q and A, he told Kenney he was headed to Okotoks to meet with people from the cattle industry and agribusiness.

“There’s so much potential here, so much enthusiasm to get to work in Alberta. I just love getting out here and feeling that,” he said.

O’Toole is slated to address the AGM on Oct. 24.

International lenders face growing public pressure to reduce climate change by avoiding funding things such as oilsands projects. Kenney told the AGM that “decisions from especially a number of European financial institutions to stop providing support for the Canadian oilsands is based on gross misinformation.”

The new Invest Alberta agency will be taking the lead in the “fight for access to capital on this ESG question,” he said, referring to the environment, social and governance principles lenders are adopting to guide responsible investment decisions.

The province’s $30-million Canadian Energy Centre, or war room, is also slated to begin large advertising campaigns, said Kenney. The pandemic forced the provincial government to pull back on the centre, he said, describing operating budget cuts that followed several missteps by the organization.

Kenney’s government made an unprecedented investment of $1.5 billion on March 31 to boost the development of the 1,947-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska, along with $6 billion in loan guarantees.

“You know, we went into this investment eyes wide open, knowing that there was political risk, but if we had not made the investment, the pipeline would not have gone forward,” he told the AGM.

U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he will cancel Keystone XL if elected, but Kenney said Alberta has a multi-pronged strategy to ensure the project is completed. It ranges from working with U.S. construction unions to speaking with Democratic congressional representatives and senators who support the project, along with governors and state legislators along the route, he said.

Part of Alberta’s pitch to a new U.S. administration if Biden is elected will also focus on the “huge environmental progress made here on reducing emissions, on carbon capture, utilization and storage, and so much more,” he said.

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