Debunking 5 Claims Made by Anti-Canadian Oil & Gas Activists

The Truth About Canada's Oil & Gas Sector

Is Canadian oil “dirty” like many anti-oil and gas activist groups claim? The answer is no! When these activists portray Canadian oil as such, they put forth an unbalanced and misleading narrative while doing a huge disservice to the global environment plus the workers, families and governments in Canada who all share the benefits of our oil and gas industry.

Undermined is the incredible progress Canadian oil and gas producers have made over the past several decades to decrease their environmental footprints. Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensities, water use intensities, and volumes of methane gas being flared into the atmosphere are just three of many examples which you’ll never hear about from opponents.

Another thing you’ll never hear them say is that of the world’s top oil reserve holders, Canada ranks #1 on environmental, social, and governance standards. Of the top 20 oil producers, Canada ranks #2 on social progress and governance and #4 on the environment. Why are these facts always omitted? Is it "dirty" to be ranked so high on such important metrics?

At Canada Action, we prefer balanced, fact-based discussions regarding our world-class natural resource industries. Let’s clear the air on some of the more specific misleading claims made by these anti-Canadian oil and gas development activists.

Claim #1 – “Canadian Oil Has Never Been Dirtier” – FALSE

According to activists, over the past three decades (since 1990) the emissions intensity per barrel of Canadian oil produced has increased by 16 per cent, starkly contrasting official statements made by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) and others. The source of this “16 per cent” figure is also unclear; after checking the source, there was no statement like this made in it whatsoever.

Official statements made by NRC, IHS and BMO:

Natural Resources Canada“Due to technological and operational efficiency improvements, oil sands emissions per barrel have decreased 36% from 2000 to 2018.”

IHS Markit“The new analysis, using most recent data available, shows trends remaining in line with previous IHS Markit projections that oil sands GHG intensity will decline by at least 16 to 23% by 2030 (to a level 30% below 2009).”

BMO Capital Markets“Following meaningful reductions in GHG intensity since 2012, we estimate oil sands currently emit just 4-6% more than the global average from production to end-use.”

CIBC Equity Research - "If emissions related to the consumption of the refined product are included, Canadian-sourced heavy barrels are competitive (within 10% of the global average for the majority of oil sands barrels even before applying the impacts of new technology)."

Given the above science and facts, can it really be said Canadian oil has never been dirtier? You be the judge on that. Producers predict that future technologies may have the potential to substantially reduce environmental footprints even further to levels well below the global average.

Claim #2 – “Canadian Offshore Oil is Also Dirty Oil” – FALSE

Suggesting that all Canadian oil is “dirty” oil does not take into account the variety of blends produced in different regions of the country. For example, the GHG intensity of light oil produced offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador is much different than that of heavy blends in the oil sands - an integral difference that must be distinguished when discussing emission intensities.

Currently, upstream GHG emissions intensities per barrel of oil produced offshore along Canada’s East Coast is approximately 12 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, more than 30 per cent lower than the world average of 18kg of CO2 per barrel.

Former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball has touched on the subject:

"While the world still needs oil, the oil offshore Newfoundland and Labrador has produced a lower emission intensity than the world average, which is not only in our national, but global interests to reduce our carbon footprint"

Claim #3 – “The Oil Industry Has Pressured Governments to Stop all Climate Policy” - FALSE

Canadian oil and gas producers are world-class leaders when it comes to environmental protections and new clean tech initiatives.

For example, the oil and gas sector is the largest spender on clean technology in the Canada, accounting for roughly 75% of approximately $1.4 billion spent annually. To add, in 2016, oil and gas companies spent $3.7 billion on environmental protections - or about 44% of total spending that year - also much higher than any other industry.

Taking climate action is extremely important and is something taken seriously by all natural resource sectors in our country. To suggest that Canada's oil and gas industry would try to stop climate policy when it's never been more important is absurd.

Canada is a first mover and remains the only top supplier of oil to the USA with carbon pricing initiatives - since 2007.

Claim #4 – “The Oil & Gas Industry Has Not Been Paying Taxes to Municipalities” - MISLEADING

In 2017, Alberta’s oil and gas industry paid $1.25 billion in municipal property tax on upstream assets alone despite the fact that hundreds of oil and gas companies in Canada have gone out of business since the price crash in 2014.

When oil and gas businesses dissolve, the taxes they pay to local municipalities do too, resulting in a “tax” shortfall where municipal governments are forced to generate revenue elsewhere usually by increasing taxes on other businesses. This hurts these communities just as much, if not more than it does the dissolving companies.

For example, in August of 2020 various municipalities across Alberta were concerned with proposed tax changes for big oil and gas companies. Steven Wannstrom, reeve of Starland County in the Drumheller area said the municipality used to run on a $15 million annual budget, which has recently dropped to $10 million in light of tough times for the oil and gas sector. He says that upwards of 80 per cent of the current Starland County budget is generated by taxes collected from oil and gas companies.

These companies are part of a beleaguered industry who has seen decline in investment and capital spending, which has a domino effect on Canadians living in various municipalities across Alberta, Saskatchewan and other oil and gas producing provinces. Anti-development activists are outright wrong. 

When oil and gas companies in Canada suffer, so do municipalities which in many cases overwhelmingly rely on taxes put into the coffer by these operators to pay for services and community projects.

Claim #5 – “New Oil & Gas Project Employment Numbers are Not Tangible” - FALSE

Opponents of the Canadian oil and gas industry claim that projected job numbers are being inflated to justify new infrastructure projects. Let’s keep in mind that the economy experienced its worst financial hit since 2009 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some economists suggesting that we may never return to “normal.”

Canada’s economic recovery should not be prejudiced against certain jobs being created in certain sectors at this time whatsoever. Our nation will need all economic engines firing on all cylinders if we want to make a full recovery as quickly as we can, including the oil and gas industry which by far is one of the largest wealth generating sectors with the highest labour productivity in Canada.

Oil and gas projects currently underway are bringing well-paying jobs to communities in Canada, especially in rural areas where employment opportunities can be scarce. For example:

According to the Western Investor, in British Columbia alone more than 5,400 people were employed by three energy projects (LNG Canada, CGL, Site C Dam) by the end of July 2020, but 13,000 more will be needed by 2021 which may cause a massive labour shortage.

And these figures do not include full-time jobs after completion, or the tens of thousands of indirect jobs created as a result of these projects.

Real jobs are being created by oil and gas projects in Canada, supporting thousands of workers and their families. All Canadians hoping for a real economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should throw their support behind jobs being created in the natural resource sector, as they should for jobs being created in any other sector.

Claim #6 – “We Do Not Oppose Foreign Oil Imports” - TRUE

Let's ask why these activists oppose Canadian oil extraction and production, but never oppose foreign oil imports which are often not subject to carbon pricing (like in Canada) and are more often than not produced by nations with much lower / non-existent regulatory transparency, environmental protections and human rights standards?

In 2019, Canada imported nearly $19 billion of foreign oil, almost all of which came from countries who rank lower on environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. According to Statistics Canada, $273 million worth came from Nigeria, a country where oil spills are an unfortunate norm.

The human rights record of other nations importing oil should be of concern not just for Canada, but also for governments around the world who support and uphold worker rights, equality and freedoms in a free society.

Canada’s oil sands industry does currently have an average emissions intensity higher than that seen across the globe (despite several new oil sands projects which are lower than the global average). Taking action on climate is one of the pressing issues of our time, but also taking action in support of advancing equality and human rights around the world should be just as important. That starts with opposing foreign oil imports which benefit other global producers with much lower ESG rankings (~80% of global reserves in OPEC countries) and do nothing to support Canadian families and governments across the country.

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