Canada’s oil and gas industry long ago lost control over the narratives that shaped the worldview of its oil sands sector. Sadly, that perspective includes much of Canada.
The sector is constantly reacting to competing narratives expertly controlled by outside forces much more proficient at storytelling than we’ve been.
As a result, Canada’s global reputation as a clean and conscientious energy producer is imperilled. And the consumer brand and trust value of millions of dollars invested in oil-sands-focused tech innovation toward cleaner and greener barrels is lost.
Many great stories haven’t been told. Their value in constructively shaping perspectives and dialogues will never be recovered. Nor will the economic aspects and the related narratives to which provincial and federal politicians pay attention.
But it’s not too late to tell the positive story of the largest infrastructure investment in Canadian history and its effect on the rebirth of Canada’s natural gas economy. This includes defining Canada’s place in a global industry rapidly shifting toward natural gas as a transition fuel.
The final investment decision in late 2018 by the LNG Canada consortium means more to the Canadian energy economy than one significant project on the West Coast – even if it does represent a project of singular scale. Also notable is the intriguing East Coast potential through companies like Pieridae Energy and its project at Goldboro, N.S.
A group of key industry organizations and companies wants to ensure this new LNG economy doesn’t fall prey to the well-organized external forces capable of crippling a sector. This group also wants to ensure the interests of labour and the trades are at the table.
JWN Energy, Resource Works Society, the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR) and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) have been laying the groundwork for an alliance of like-minded companies and organizations.
Objectives include advocating for a truly global accounting of the climate benefits of liquefied natural gas (LNG). That presents a major challenge because of variances in greenhouse gas accounting.
A rejuvenated Canadian natural gas sector must also anticipate opposition and have a co-ordinated plan to deal with it. Past attempts to build compelling narratives have clearly failed, largely because they’re fragmented.
The group is hosting a planning and information session on Jan. 15 in Calgary to gauge interest. So far, representatives of nearly two dozen organizations say they plan to attend. Participants will be asked to frame a preliminary road map, noted CGAI president Kelly Ogle.
“Our goal is to first identify all the players, from companies to communities, and explore whether there’s a collective will to form an alliance that will focus on getting the narratives right,” noted Ogle. “It’s clear from the response to our invitation, we’re on to something in terms of co-ordinating all these interests.”
A key CGAI objective is to ensure the policy dimensions of an LNG economy are fully aired. The institute plans a 12-part series of peer-reviewed papers early in 2019 to examine Canada’s role in a global LNG economy. There will be a particular focus on key policy choices that must be made to ensure LNG Canada and other projects deliver on their potential, noted Ogle.
The Montney Formation in B.C. and Alberta is also one of the world’s most prolific unconventional resource plays and its role in the LNG economy warrants attention and discussion, noted CSUR president Dan Allan.
“We have some of the best drilling and completion processes in the world being deployed by Montney operators,” Allan said. “Showcasing those innovative operational strategies will help underscore Canada’s capabilities of being a global player with a sound environmental track record.”
For Resource Works executive director Stewart Muir, the community context is critical.
“From First Nations communities to local economies, there are many voices with important things to say in how best to manage the opportunities associated with major projects that are happening against a backdrop of significant social and policy shifts,” he noted. “We need to ensure we create a connected communications process by which these voices are aligned with each other and not working in isolation.”
The challenge will be to co-ordinate with each other when appropriate, while pursuing their own strategies – and anticipate and deal with opposition forces that tend to be more proficient at creating distracting narratives.
Canada’s oil sands experience offers many lessons on how to be more proactive and better at anticipating the opposition creeping in through the cracks in our foundation.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.