Tzeporah Berman and Jason Kenney

Oil sands CEOs cut deal (climate policy for no production cap) with ENGOs and other oil/gas companies were not invited to the table

Jason Kenney is cranking up his Tzeporah Berman Circus again. But this time he also takes aim at the oil sands CEOs who negotiated with the Vancouver activist and five environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) for an historic “carbon for production” deal in the spring of 2015, implying that the most powerful executives in Alberta were duped. Not surprisingly, the facts don’t support this claim.

Meme Tweeted by UCP leader Jason Kenney. This column and others like it explains exactly why Tzeporah Berman was appointed to OSAG.

“I won’t defend appointing someone clearly hostile to our oil & gas workers, regardless of whether or not some industry players thought it was a wise idea at the time,” he wrote in a Facebook post Saturday, following the UCP’s release of yet another Berman meme that drew a Twitter response from Berman herself.

“What’s especially troubling is that the NDP surely knew EXACTLY what Ms. Berman stood for – even if some industry types naively believed they could do business with Ms. Berman.”

Kenney insults Steve Williams (Suncor), Murray Edwards (CNRL), Brian Ferguson (Cenvous), Lorraine Mitchelmore (Shell Canada), ConocoPhillips, and meetings co-chair Dave Collyer (past CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) by calling them naive.

Each of those oil sands leaders are or have been responsible for world class companies generating many billions of revenue a year. When they approached Collyer in the fall of 2014 and asked him to approach Berman and the ENGOs about informal conversations to resolve the deadlock and polarization of the Canadian discourse around oil and pipelines, they knew exactly what they were doing.

I’ve reported on that process and detailed what went on behind the scenes in a number of columns (here, here, and here). But as part of the research for my book on Alberta energy policy, I’ve interviewed even more players in what really is a dramatic – though admittedly quiet – development in the history of the oil sands.

Interviewees include Premier Rachel Notley herself; Harbir Chhina, VP of technology for Cenovus; Ed Whittingham, former head of the Pembina Institute, who attended all of the meetings with the CEOs; and a follow up with Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s environment and climate change minister.

Those interviews supplement the original lengthy on-the-record discussions with Berman and Collyer.

Which means that while Kenney admits he had no part in choosing members of the Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG), and therefore doesn’t really know the story or the motivations of the players in this little drama, I’ve spoken with many of them and unlike the Leader of the Official Opposition, I can tell you why Notley acquiesed to the CEO’s request to appoint Berman to OSAG.

The CEOS cut the deal with the ENGOs, Berman was a key party to that deal, and they wanted her to help design how the 100 megatonne oil sands emissions cap would be implemented.

Remember, OSAG wasn’t providing general advice about oil sands policy. It had one mission and one mission only: figure out how to make the emissions cap work.

And just before OSAG began meeting in mid-2017 or shortly thereafter, Berman upped her public criticisms of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline (590,000 b/d from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, BC).

Her outspoken opposition to Alberta interests while she was being paid by the Alberta government angered Notley, Phillips, and Collyer. And, no doubt, the CEOs.

They believed that because she signed on to the agreement – support for emissions reduction policies in exchange for no limits to oil sands production – she also signed on to support new pipelines.

Tzeporah Berman confirms to Jason Kenney who requested her appointment to OSAG.

They also felt betrayed.

Berman says she changed her mind because she became convinced that new technologies to reduce the carbon-intensity of bitumen were still too experimental and would never achieve their promise in time to make a contribution to GHG emissions reductions. Oh, and she endured tremendous pressure from other activists not happy with her seeming endorsement of “dirty oil” and the “Alberta carbon bomb.”

At worst, Notley is guilty of not taking a harder line with the CEOs and refusing their request to appoint Berman to OSAG.

Big deal, that’s politics. The request was reasonable, Berman by all accounts acquitted herself well at the OSAG table, and what she does on her own time back in Vancouver is her business. If Notley or Phillips have an issue with Berman’s opposition to TMX, they have plenty of venues to express their displeasure.

But what is Kenney’s angle here? Why does he drone on and on about an appointment that lasted just a year and ended in 2017? Why all the memes and the Tweets and the existential angst?

This is payback.

Those five oil sands CEOs negotiated a deal with a significant impact on other oil and gas companies without bothering to include them at the table or, in most cases, consulting them.

Oh, sure, they may have had the other companies’ interests in mind while negotiating, but one can’t imagine the other industry players were happy to discover their policy world upended overnight thanks to folks with whom they drink scotch at the Petroleum Club.

Four of those oil sands CEOs joined Notley on the stage Nov. 22, 2015 to launch the Climate Leadership Plan. They have remained joined at the political hip with her ever since.

CAPP, industry associations representing smaller producers and other sectors of the oil patch, gas producers, the service companies, junior and midcap conventional producers – they’re backing Kenney. Not all of them, but plenty of them. And if not publicly and corporately, then privately.

This is the basic fault line of Alberta energy politics: Notley/oil sands vs. Kenney/trade groups/natural gas/conventional.

And let’s not forget the yeoman’s work that sychophants like Cody Battershill (Canada Action) and Robbie Picard (Oil Sands Strong) do for Kenney by keeping this ginned up zombie story alive despite many attempts to kill it with facts and good reporting.

This story, replete with interviews and anecdotes from many of the players in the room, will be a big part of my upcoming book.  Sunlight is a wonderful disinfectant and it’s time to splash a bit on Jason Kenney’s continual misrepresentation of this story.