Thursday, November 26, 2015

In Alberta, oil industry, left-wing government and environmental groups all on same page

An unlikely alliance appears to be developing between the relatively new Alberta NDP government and Alberta's commercial oil sands developers. Such a coming together of minds and opinions would have been unthinkable just a year ago, but in the new Zeitgeist of low oil prices and increased concern over global warming, it is perhaps not as unlikely as it first appears.
Rachel Notley's left-leaning NDP government was elected in May of this year, against all expectations and putting an end to an 80-year run of centre-right governments in Alberta, on a platform which included taking strong and effective action on climate change.
Alberta remains the "dirty man" of Canada, with its huge dependence on carbon-intensive oil sands development and more coal-fired electricity generation than the rest of the country out together. But the Alberta government has taken action recently to turn that around with the announcement of their new provincial climate action plan in the run-up to the Paris climate forum this December.
The plan includes a province-wide carbon tax, starting at $20/tonne in 2017, and increasing to $30/tonne in 2018 (which is also where British Columbia's very successful carbon tax is pitched). Sticklers may complain that it is not a completely revenue-neutral carbon tax like BC's, but the estimated $3 billion a year in carbon tax revenue will be ploughed back into green technologies and infrastructure, and also into compensation for the lowest earning 60% of households. So, it is not revenue-neutral for individuals, but it is revenue-neutral for the province as a whole.
In addition, the plan calls for a hard cap on oil sands carbon emissions, a phase-out of coal-fired power over the next 15 years (with two-thirds being replaced by renewables, primarily wind power), a 10-year goal to nearly halve methane emissions, and incentives for renewable energy development (which is to represent 30% of Alberta's power by 2030). All in all, a pretty comprehensive and ambitious policy.
But the expected howls of outrage and indignation from Alberta's oil industry did not arrive. Indeed, its reaction has been positively supportive and celebratory. Why? The strategy will cost Albertan businesses and residents billions, but there has been a grudging recognition that the perceptions (especially south of the border), even if not the reality, of the oil sands operations have been actively harming the oil industry's ability to do business. Premier Notley specifically referred to US President Obama's recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline over the environmental impact of oil sands development as "a wake-up call" (as well as "a kick in the teeth").
The leaders of some of Canada's biggest carbon dioxide emitters emitters lined up to express their support and to bolster their greem credentials. CNTL chairman Murray Edwards commented, "On behalf of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, my colleagues at Suncor, Cenovus and Shell, we applaud Premier Notley for giving us [sic], to provide the position of leadership on climate policy". Suncor CEO Steve Williams offered: "This plan will make one of the world's largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate change challenge". Shell Canada's president Lorraine Michelmore called the climate plan "a turning point" and "the end of a chapter for Alberta, and for Canada, where the economy and the environment were at odds". Kinder Morgan Canada's president Ian Anderson issued a statement saying: "The collaboration of industry, the government of Alberta and environmental groups helps pave a path forward and provides important clarity to policy and direction for the entire industry".
Wow! The Cool-Aid has definitely changed colour.

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