Climate change debate polarization shows lack of leadership, says oilsands CEO

CALGARY — Polarization of the climate change debate as it relates to the role of the Canadian energy industry indicates an “extreme” lack of leadership from all political parties in Canada, says the CEO of oilsands producer MEG Energy Corp.

Speaking at the Natural Resources Summit in Calgary on Wednesday, Derek Evans said he’s frustrated by the wide gulf in views exhibited by parties in the run-up to the Oct. 21 election.

“Some of us have banged on the prime minister’s door and said, ‘I would like to talk to you,’ but I can’t get in. Either I’m not big enough, I’m not loud enough, I don’t represent enough people,’” he said.

“We’re not shying away from trying to get in there and create those conversations but I’ll go out on a limb and say I have never seen such an extreme lack of leadership across all parties about something that is as central and as critical to the jobs and the economy of this country.”

With polls showing the front-running Liberals and Conservatives in a close race, some observers have suggested a minority government might have to rely on support of the NDP or the Green Party, both of which have signalled they will not support expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline that Ottawa bought last year for $4.5 billion.

Evans told reporters later he couldn’t expand on his views of the leadership issue because of new election rules that could result in him being fined if he says too much during the campaign.

Both Evans and Steve Laut, vice-chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., said they are working toward an ultimate goal of taking their companies to “net zero” in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

MEG will accomplish that through efficiencies in using steam and solvents at its oilsands works and with carbon capture and storage, Evans said.

“It’s a multitude of technologies, a multitude of process changes that we’re working on,” said Laut, citing continuous improvements in oilsands extraction, carbon capture and storage and carbon capture and conversion, where new products are made from captured carbon.

Neither would provide a timeline to reach their goals.

Claims of cleaner Canadian energy are suspicious, said Jesse Firempong of Greenpeace Canada, citing studies that show the industry is fourth-most greenhouse gas intensive in the world and that average emissions per barrel increased between 1990 and 2017.

Canadian Natural says it cut its corporate GHG intensity per barrel by 20 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

The summit, held to examine how the energy sector is dealing with rising environmental opposition such as last Friday’s climate strike, was hosted by the Canadian Global Cities Council, a group of eight metro chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across Canada.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade supports oil and gas because of the economic benefits the country as a whole gains from having a healthy energy sector, said CEO Jan De Silva.

“Jobs solve a lot of challenges for everyone in our communities,” she said.

“These are not Alberta’s issues alone. How Canada can be a leader in natural resources and lead the world in clean tech matters greatly to Toronto and to the entire country.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2019.

Companies mentioned in this article include: (TSX:CNQ, TSX:MEG)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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