Photo: The Canadian Press
Line sections of the Trans Mountain Pipeline are unloaded in Edson, Alta. On Tuesday, June 18, 2019. The pipeline polarization battles in North America have seen many places – from the Prime Minister’s Office and the US Department of State to the windswept plains of Nebraska and Minnesota to the chambers of judges on both sides of the Canada-US border. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jason Franson
The pipeline polarization battles in North America have seen many places – from the Prime Minister’s Office and the United States Department of State to the windswept plains of Nebraska and Minnesota to judging chambers on both sides of the Canada border. -american.
The irreconcilable differences are rooted in the regional nature of the energy industry in the two countries, experts say, with climate change extremists on one side and oil and gas traditionalists on the other.
The solution, when it comes, is unlikely to come from the courtroom, but from the classrooms producing the next corporate sequel to the energy sector.
“We have a very intelligent cohort of next generation oil and gas leaders,” said Peter Tertzakian, energy economist, author and assistant professor of commerce at the University of Calgary.
“This very smart and energetic cohort is also very frustrated, if not confused, because of all the negative stigma around the company. ”
As young people with an inherent generational concern about climate change, they are also highly motivated to find ways to deal with this challenge from within an industry long considered its anathema.
“They’re trying to figure out everything from how to effectively pivot their organizations in this new world of transition, and how to change some of the narratives as well.
These stories are often deeply frustrating to people in places like Alberta and Texas, where the fossil fuel industry has been a part of daily life for most of the past 150 years.
But as pipelines, by their very nature, deliver the spoils of Alberta’s oil sands to and through parts of the continent that can gain little or no obvious benefit, conflict is inevitable.
“You had this large set of interest groups that were between the resource and the market, getting next to nothing from the deal,” said Andrew Leach, an energy economist who teaches at the University of Alberta to Edmonton.
“There’s no breathtaking worldview tomorrow in all but the suburbs of Alberta, while outside of Alberta it’s really easy to say, ‘Yeah, don’t do that. . ‘ ‘
This appears to be what is happening in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer suddenly revoked a 1953 agreement that allowed Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 between Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ont., To carry oil and gas under the Straits of Mackinac, an ecologically sensitive section of the Great Lakes.
Whitmer, a close ally of Joe Biden who was on his list of potential candidates, announced the decision less than a week after being declared the winner of last year’s presidential election.
Two months later, Biden canceled the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which aimed to transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the east coast of the United States.
The closure of 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 maximum capacity, and given the public attitude towards pipelines in Canada, it would be impossible to develop an alternative line that avoids crossing the border, he added.
“Building a whole new pipeline across Canada would be as big a challenge as sustaining this existing pipeline – in fact, it might even be more difficult to get the unanimity of Canadians to do this,” he said. .
“We have seen several occasions where we cannot, as a country, support the construction of a pipeline. It is therefore important to keep existing pipelines in service.
Line 5 is not the only cross-border hotspot.
In Minnesota, more than 200 people have been arrested in recent months as indigenous protests intensified against Enbridge’s $ 10 billion upgrade to an existing section of the network, known as the line name 3.
Protesters sat in trees, chained themselves to equipment and made their home inside sections of pipe, organizers said.
Then there’s Dakota Access, a 1,900-kilometer line between North Dakota and Illinois that faces a death toll on April 9. .
The DAPL case is widely seen as a likely indicator for the pipeline industry in the United States, where Vice President Kamala Harris and Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first member of the Native American cabinet, support its shutdown.
“The feud is not with the pipeline companies, the feud is with the producers and the product they produce,” said Tertzakian – a “ridiculous proposal” based on the principle that to end oil production in Canada will somehow solve the problem of climate change.
Instead, the challenge ahead 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.
“Obviously, who should provide the oil are the companies who are leading the word in the world and making a concerted effort to reduce… emissions,” he said.
“These are the companies that should stand tall – the best players on the team. ”
Even in the heart of Texas – a congested oil and gas state with 770,000 kilometers of pipeline, almost as much across Canada – energy educators are beginning to see evidence of change.
Richard Denne, director of the TCU Energy Institute at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, said what was once a die-hard group of Texas students are increasingly liberal-minded California.
“We’re starting to pivot to include a lot more renewables,” Denne said in an interview, noting that one of his geology courses, once primarily focused on petrochemicals, is evolving.
“I’m going to rotate this so that it’s less oil and gas, and more of the other – uranium and rare earths needed for renewables, hydropower and geothermal power and all that sort of thing. , so that they are wider and not just oil and gas. ”