Other countries see Canada as an energy leader—so should you
By Bill Whitelaw
Jan. 9, 2017, 1:41 p.m.
Canadians pondering our energy future might do well to take into account how others see us.
It would give them comfort to know the sector is actually in pretty good hands—at least in the opinion of folks able to view things from a rational perspective.
As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, it’s important to remember that our energy sector’s roots actually predate Confederation.
For a relatively young country, we have an old (and honourable) energy history. But because we live with it daily, we’re perhaps not as acutely aware of how important that energy history is when rooted in a global context and viewed from the vantage points of other jurisdictions that see Canada as an international role model.
Simply put, for many folks outside of Canada, the things we as Canadians take for granted in terms of energy development are looked upon with something that borders on envy.
Canadians would do well as energy citizens to see—as others do—our energy record as something to be viewed with pride rather than disdain or even despair.
Those who believe mainstream media coverage might be tempted to believe that the Canadian energy record blots an otherwise sterling international reputation.
That’s because a small group of activist voices seem to exert a command-and-control dynamic over Canada’s news editors who (generally) are more caught up chasing the social media mewlings of activists rather than engaging in solid, contextual and literate energy journalism.
Talk to the men and women in other countries who are in charge of domestic energy development and an entirely different view of Canada’s competencies emerges.
Canada’s energy ethos
What’s the common linkage between Canada’s diverse capabilities? A unique characteristic perhaps best described as an energy ethos—ethos being the operative word.
Put simply, it’s the ethical approach Canadians take to energy development: one that keeps in balance environmental dynamics and economic realities.
On a recent energy tour of central European countries—Poland, Hungary and Croatia—discussions with a diverse range of energy stakeholders provided interesting perspectives on what Canada has to offer in terms of technical, safety, regulatory, educational and yes, even political experience and practice.
The tour was organized by Ottawa’s trade commissioner to showcase and heighten opportunities in both Canadian investment and trade.
Canada is an attractive trading partner and supplier of expertise, perspective and social conscience because of where we have evolved to in our domestic energy dynamic.
Energy “freedoms” are a major difference between our approach and the approach of others. Take our system’s transparency as but one example.
Most Canadians are largely ignorant of the transparency foundations on which our energy systems are built—foundations that contribute immeasurably to our quality of life.
Want to know what a energy company paid to lease Crown land? No problem. Interested in knowing who was issued a well licence yesterday? Again, no problem. Curious about a particular company’s hydrocarbon production volumes? Easy, peasy.
It’s all there in the public domain—and it makes for an incredibly vibrant and competitive industry. Such data availability to anyone with an interest is core to how many of our systems function, not for oil and gas companies or power generators in particular but for Canadian society as a whole.
That’s one dimension the Poles, Hungarians and Croatians deeply admire.
Why? Because the system works for the citizens who actually own the molecules.
And that system—actually a system of systems, provincially and federally—has been evolving and improving over decades. Data transparency actually creates robust, competitive and accountable markets.
Balancing energy and the environment
The ways and means we’re balancing energy development and environmental sustainability are also of great interest, as are the methods for consultation on major energy issues.
Canadians—again, those who only consume mainstream media—might be confused by this given all the white noise around perceived failures to consult around major pipeline projects. But citizens of central Europe would give their eyeteeth to be privileged to avail themselves of our processes.
The other area drawing attention is the way in which Canada is advancing its energy-systems mix; the balanced approach that recognizes no single energy system can be wholly independent in and of itself.
Whether this is driven by regulation or the market, Canada’s approach is eyed as a form of guidance as our country navigates the best way to use its vast and varied resource wealth.
One of the main drivers of central European interest in Canadian energy turns on a dynamic unknown to Canadians: being dependent on a less-than-dependable source for the bulk of domestic energy demand.
In this case, the 12 countries that form central Europe want to be less reliant on Russian natural gas from both pricing and security of supply perspectives. They’re making a variety of moves, independently and through the European Union, to become more energy self-sufficient as well as wean themselves off coal over the long-term.
Canada’s energy shift is about new market opportunities for our hydrocarbons and the products and services that drive their development across a broad supply chain spectrum.
The race with no finish line
This is not to suggest, of course, that Canada should rest on its laurels simply because others admire our systems and approaches. In fact, it’s a pointed reminder that being an energy leader comes with the burden of running a race that has no finish line.
But it is nice to know we’re well ahead of a large part of the pack.
It’s too bad more Canadians can’t see what’s in front of them.