Dave Collyer, former head of CAPP.

Collyer is speaking up in Alberta about need to balance climate and energy policies – as Notley, Trudeau governments are doing

Good climate policy is just good public policy these days, says oil and gas industry veteran Dave Collyer, and the C-suites of downtown Calgary should put aside their partisan politics and back the efforts of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau to support new pipelines and expansion of the Alberta oil sands.

This is the third and final part of my interview with Collyer, who has emerged as the voice of reason within the Alberta oil patch, an advocate for the international consensus that global warming is an issue the energy industry must tackle even as it expands by 30 to 50% by 2040 (latest estimates from the International Energy Agency).

No surprise that Collyer, an engineer by profession who spent 30 years with Shell before heading up the Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers from 2008 to 2014, is plugged into the thinking among industry super-majors. You can hear his concerns about energy and climate policy echoed in speeches by Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden or Saudi Arabia energy minister Khalid Al-Falih.

For instance, this excerpt from Khalid Al-Falih’s recent speech to CERAweek 2017 in Houston:

At the same time, I want to add that as an industry we must invest more to minimize the environmental impact and carbon footprint of fossil fuels. Such investments will make petroleum use more acceptable and more sustainable in a period of significant technology shifts and growing concern over climate change.

Big Oil gets it.

Collyer gets it.

Now he’s trying to help Calgary-based energy executives get it, but that task is is easier said than done. Canadian energy managers seem to take their ideological cues from Houston rather than The Hague these days.

Peter Lougheed, former Alberta premier.

While the world moves on, the Alberta industry seems stuck in a political rut, yearning for the golden days of the Alberta Advantage under PC Premier Ralph Klein or the enlightened conservatism of Peter Lougheed.

Support an New Democrat government? Never.

Another Trudeau running the Canadian government? Cue Armageddon.

In this interview, Collyer argues that climate and energy are about good policy, what’s best in the future for the oil and gas industry and Alberta, not partisan politics.

The big players in Alberta seem to have got the message. Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson, for instance, has publicly praised the Notley government, noting that the Climate Leadership Plan was instrumental in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approving Kinder Morgan’s 525,000 b/d Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project, whose construction starts in Sept.

But many, many other denizens of the Alberta oil patch have yet to see the light, something Collyer hopes to change in the very near future.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Markham : Last October, Abacus Data released a seminal public opinion poll about energy and Canadian attitudes toward climate policy, showing that over 80% of Canadians support construction of new pipelines as long as federal and provincial governments policy support the long-term transition to cleaner forms energy. What’s the take in Calgary on that general approach?

Collyer : I think we need to separate politics and policy. I think the positions taken by the Alberta and federal governments are very reflective [of that poll] on pipelines, for example. And I think the broader [Canadian approach] to energy and climate policy is very much reflective of that poll.

I think the industry in Calgary ought to be more visibly supportive of the direction that both the federal and provincial governments are going. This isn’t, in my mind, a political issue, as I said earlier, it’s a policy issue. You don’t have to be a strong supporter of the NDP government and the federal Liberals, I don’t think, to support the policy direction they’re taking on these issues.

I think we need to be more willing to step up and I think there’s more support in Calgary for that position than is sometimes apparent. But there’s an unwillingness in many quarters to actually get up and talk about it.  

Markham : What will you personally be doing over the next year or two to try to get industry moving in the right direction and to support infrastructure projects like TMX?

Collyer : Two things.

One, I’ve been working with some of the companies to try and advance what I think is balanced policy that hits the sweet spot. Deals that advance the environmental agenda, help climate policy, but also deals with competitiveness and the reality that the overall package has to work for industry.

Two, doing what I’ve been doing more recently and that is speaking out a little bit more visibly about some of these issues and trying to create a little momentum, if you will, in the public domain and industry towards the kind of policy, both energy and climate, but I think we need to advance an agenda that will work for industry and work for Alberta in the long-term.

Markham : Is “no” an energy policy option? I’m hearing that line coming out of Calgary more and more often.

Collyer So, I think it’s [climate policies] the right thing to do – why would we politicize it? I think it’s just the right direction to take for all the reasons I’ve talked about earlier.

The question is what industry is prepared to stand up for.

There’s another practical dimension to this: the window on these pipelines doesn’t stay open forever.

Some industry members will say, “Okay, let’s wait for a change of government, maybe there’ll be a different policy.” Personally, I don’t think the federal government is likely to change in the next election cycle. I could be wrong, that’s not a popular view in Alberta, but at the very least, a change in the federal government is far from certain. 

But even if you assume a change of government, you’re still looking three years down the road and I think the window is now, not three years from now. If we continue to churn and equivocate and aren’t firmly committed around energy and climate policy, I think we may wake up one day and find the window’s closed. 

Irrespective of your political views, and what you might think about climate policy and all of that, that window [to build more pipelines] doesn’t stay open forever.