Guest column: Canada needs to set a new course with energy and minerals

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This article appeared as a guest column in the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper 

A commentary by the CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance. She is an elected councillor of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and a former elected chief.

By KAREN OGEN-TOEWS

For a while, we thought Ottawa might be beginning to understand the world of global energy.

That was last year, when Jonathan Wilkinson, then federal environment and climate change minister, spoke of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline running for 30-40 years, and funding some of Canada’s climate-change efforts.

But now Steven Guilbeault, green activist turned national environment minister, has dismissed calls for Canada to export more oil and gas to help other nations get off “dictator energy” from countries such as Russia.

“The solution to global energy problems is not to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” declared Guilbeault. Instead, he insisted, the world should quickly deploy renewables and clean-tech to reduce Europe’s dependence on oil and gas.

Just when we thought we were at the tail end of the pandemic, and preparing for a new normal, we are faced with the war in Ukraine. We need to think, now, about Canada’s place in the world, in the light of geopolitics and the transition to a low-carbon future.

It means we should not dismiss the potential of Canada’s natural resources.

“Oil is dead” is wishful thinking. Demand may indeed peak 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, but it will continue long after that. The International Energy Agency sees continuing demand of almost 10 million barrels a day above today’s level.

As for natural gas and LNG, Shell (the world’s largest seller of LNG) says world demand is expected to almost double to 700 million tonnes by 2040. So LNG isn’t dead either.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised the urgent question: Where can nations dependent on Russian and other “dictator countries” safely secure future energy supplies?

Energy commentator Mark Milke notes that from 2005 to 2019, the EU imported natural gas worth over $1.1 trillion. About a third came from tyrannies and autocracies (think Russia, Algeria and Libya) and it now is 45 per cent. Europe also gets 25 per cent of its oil from Russia.

Five proposed LNG projects east of Ontario have been blocked by federal and Quebec governments. Had they gone ahead, Canada could be exporting natural gas to Europe right now, helping reduce its dependence on Russia.

We need now to step back from tired old positions and really examine Canada’s role on the world stage when it comes to energy and critical resources. Maybe we can’t help Europe in a hurry, but help we can.

In spite of the stand the new environment minister takes, and in spite of lack of confidence in Canada’s regulatory processes, we know government can respond to urgent issues. COVID is a case in point.

So now’s the time to discuss how Canada can help the world, and contribute to the energy transition.

We hear officials in Ottawa have asked Pieridae Energy if its proposed floating LNG plant in Nova Scotia could somehow be fast-tracked.

But fast-tracking such resource projects would call for a fast-track regulatory system, and government approvals for resource projects have a record of excruciatingly slow progress.

The classic example is the Pacific NorthWest LNG project in B.C. that was shelved by Petronas and its partners in July 2017. Federal approval took three years, seven months, 26 days, or 1,334 days in all. In contrast, the U.S. took one year, two months, 17 days, 442 days in total, to OK the Sabine Pass LNG project in Louisiana.

Oil and gas are Canada’s most valuable exports ($132.2 billion in 2018) and we can produce them responsibly.

But virtually all now goes to the U.S. at low prices. We don’t get full value, and often the U.S. simply processes our exports and re-sells them at a profit. (Still, if the U.S. would stop buying Russian petroleum, that would punish Russia, and could make more room for our exports.)

It’s time for government to re-think Canada’s role in the energy and minerals markets.

And we must include First Nations in the discussions and the solutions.

(The column as it appeared in the Times Colonist: http://ow.ly/XyI750IoNOP

(Posted here 21 March 2022) 

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