DEBATE: The Future of Canada's Oil Sands Industry

debate - what is the future of Canada's oil sands

What does the future of Canada’s oil sands look like, especially in a world ever-increasingly focused on sustainability? Can the oil sands sector be a part of the global solution to energy security and affordability while continuing to reduce emissions?

Join Cody Battershill, Canada Action’s Founder and Chief Spokesperson, as he debates Gillian Stewart, Journalist and Journalism Instructor at Mount Royal University, on The Mike Smyth Show of CKNW 980 out of Vancouver, British Columbia.


Or, keep reading for the full transcript between Mike, Cody, Gillian and callers below. Also see:


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Mike: All right, here we go now with our wildfires panel as the wildfires ravage British Columbia and the Northwest Territories too.

Is this all the proof we need? That climate change is the biggest problem and challenge that we face. Should Canada drastically scale back greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the Alberta oil sands?

In response, I've got a great panel standing by to discuss this first.

Okay, let's listen to Canada's two main political leaders here on this issue. Duking it out. This is going to be a preview of a general election in Canada, I think.

First, let's listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau here. Here he is slamming his conservative opponent Pierre Poilievre on the wildfires and climate change. Have a listen.

Trudeau: For the leader of the opposition to consider that the forest fires that are taking people from their communities and destroying their homes are a mere distraction and not top of mind for people from coast to coast to coast is shameful.

But the fact of the matter is, he doesn't have anything to say about that because he refuses to put forward any real plan to fight against climate change.

Mike: Okay, pressure on Poilievre here on the wildfires. This week, some liberals basically called him an arsonist, said the conservatives are arsonists with their promise to scrap the carbon tax as the wildfires scorch. British Columbia. Poilievre was asked about that. Listen to the conservative leader here.

Poilievre: Now a former liberal minister saying that anybody who doesn't want to pay higher taxes is an arsonist. Really? Really? As if we paid higher taxes, we'd have less forest fires?

Come on, let's get back to some common sense in this country and let's start to bring our people together instead of tearing the country apart.

Mike: Okay, let's discuss. We got a terrific panel assembled for you to discuss this.

Gillian Stewart. Very pleased to welcome Gillian. Gillian is a journalist and a journalism instructor, Mount Royal University in Calgary, and I recommend her recent op ed in the Toronto Star about conservative politicians and big oil and climate change. Gillian, thank you for coming on.

Gillian: Hi, Mike. I'm glad to be here. Mike: Yeah, I appreciate it a lot.

Mike: Also on the line is Cody Battershill. Cody is the founder of the advocacy group Canada Action, which supports oil and gas production in Canada. Cody, thank you for coming on.

Cody: Hey, thanks Mike. And thanks Gillian for being here.

Mike: Okay, thank you to both of you. Gillian Stewart, let me go to you first. What are your thoughts here on the current wildfire crisis that we see here in British Columbia, and what does it say about climate change and where we're at politically here in Canada?

Gillian: Well, I think the evidence about climate change is just becoming more and more obvious, right? I mean, even climate scientists are saying while they predicted the rate of warming they had underestimated the impacts that the warming would have, now that we're seeing the forest fires, the droughts, the floods, the ocean warming, they are saying that this is even more than they anticipated at this point.

Mike: Right. So what do you think Canada's response should be? Let's talk about the oil sands for a minute. Both of you guys are in Alberta. Do you think there should be drastic action in the oil and gas production in Alberta?

Gillian: I do. Personally, I know you can't turn off oil production overnight and we are going to need oil for some time. Right. But we do have, in Alberta and Saskatchewan as well, we do have to seriously consider reducing carbon emissions.

And so far we're not really doing that. We're doing more delay tactics, right? We're fighting with the federal government. We're talking about carbon capture and storage, which is years and years away. We're really delaying that rather than taking action.

Mike: Right. Cody Battershill, what do you say to that?

Cody: Well, Mike, I got a lot of good news for Gillian and your listeners, because oil and gas emissions in Canada peaked eight years ago, since have declined 7%, despite production being up 16%.

In carbon capture and storage, we've got two of the world's largest commercialized carbon capture and storage projects currently operating in the oil sands region and another one in Saskatchewan.

So when we do look around at what's happening in Canada, we have to, you know, I think first and foremost, recognize first responders. Recognize, yes, climate change is an issue among many other issues we face as humans, like energy security, poverty, reducing child mortality in the developing world. All of these things are important parts of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

And we must balance what we do in Canada with what's happening in the rest of the world. Affordability for Canadians, energy reliability for families around the world.

And look, the science is clear. Today fossil fuels are more than 80% of global energy production. Canada is a leader in wind, solar, hydro and reducing emissions, carbon capture, collaboration. So, I actually think the world needs more Canadian energy.

Look at LNG, for example, immediate reductions in global emissions, replacing coal-fired power generation. These are real easy things that we should be talking about. And look, I feel really bad for everyone displaced and impacted by wildfires, but today the technology does not exist for evacuees from Yellowknife to make it to Edmonton in an electric vehicle.

So we're going to need all of the above for a long time. Let's be pragmatic, let's be honest.

Mike: Gillian Stewart, what do you think of that?

Gillian: Well, I would like to say to Cody, he did mention that Alberta is a leader in wind and solar and other kinds of renewable energy. But our provincial government just imposed a moratorium on renewable energy development for what could be seven, eight months and it came out of nowhere.

The premier keeps saying that it was actually regulators that asked for this moratorium and there's no evidence of that. So we have to wonder why are they stopping and putting a freeze on that kind of development and at the same time increasing oil production?

Mike: Hey, Cody, let me ask you this. Cody, I know you are not a climate change denier. Would you be willing to acknowledge that the wildfires, the extreme weather that we're seeing, the wildfires here in Canada that are burning in British Columbia right now, is climate change responsible for the wildfires we're seeing? Would you say that?

Cody: Oh, absolutely. I mean, everything that human beings do on this planet has an impact and climate change is one of those impacts. Also, forest management, also more, a growing global population, also building codes, also fire response. There's a lot of pieces to this puzzle. Absolutely.

Climate change is real and climate change is a problem.

Now, how we address that with Canada being less than 2% of global emissions without remembering that this upcoming winter we might all need heat. And half the world's global population is fed by food produced with fertilizer that's helped made in part through natural gas, and how hospitals run with advanced plastics and even electric vehicles are made from petroleum products and carbon fibre. And all of these advanced materials, so.

The article that Gillian wrote in the Toronto Star did not acknowledge that we're leading in reducing emissions and that emissions peaked. It did not acknowledge that our industry is looked at as a global leader. And actually the oil and gas industry spends more on clean technology and environmental protection than any other industry in Canada.

And Canadians still need schools, hospitals, roads. We still need to sustain our quality of life. And the oil and gas industry is a massive contributor to all of that.

Mike: Gillian, what would you say to that.

Gillian: You know, Cody, I agree with you completely know, the petroleum sector, particularly in Alberta, has brought us not only amazing products, as you say, and a comfortable way of life and a lot of wealth to everybody in Alberta. Everybody in Alberta has benefitted from that.

But I would suggest at this point it's time to change, right? The rest of the world is actually transitioning. We're just really slow to take off on that. But we do need to change. And if we need any further evidence I don't know what further evidence we need.

You look at what happened in Kelowna. I have relatives in Kelowna. I know Kelowna really well. And to watch it burning like that with those red hot flames, it's just heartbreaking. And I have to say, why can't we do more. You know people in British Columbia are our neighbours?

Why can't we be more in step with what's happening around the world in terms of the energy transition?

Mike: What do you think, Gillian, should be done? Do you think the oil sand should be wound down and shut down or how aggressively would you go on it, do you think?

Gillian: No, I don't think they can't be shut down right now. I said that earlier. That's impossible. Right. But we should be taking steps to either put a cap on emissions or to somehow know that we are, in fact, reducing emissions overall.

I mean, I know there's been work done on reducing emissions per barrel, but at the same time, production is higher, so that kind of goes flat.

And so what are we doing to actually show the world that we are on board with this energy transition and that we want to reduce these carbon emissions that are causing so much damage to the planet?

Mike: Okay, Cody, I know you want to okay, real quick response. Go ahead.

Cody: Mike, I just got to say, global coal use is at an all time high. Countries around the world are investing in more oil production, more natural gas production. So the world is yes, also investing in more renewables. All of those things are happening at the same time.

Canada is seen as a leader in our green policies, not a laggard. So when Gillian says that Canada needs to get with the program, we are at the leading edge of the program. We've got something like 20% of the world's carbon pricing policies implemented in Canada.

It's remarkable, our leadership. So I just want us to have an informed conversation where we're not, maybe fear-mongering about what Canada isn't doing, because we are leading at the global stage with all of the above when we come when it comes to energy.

Mike: All right, we continue with our discussion panel on climate change and the wildfires. Gillian Stewart and Cody Battershill are my guests.

We got lots of phone calls here. Dev in Vancouver. Hi, Dev. Go ahead.

Dev: Hi. Thank you. Gillian, do you understand that we could shut Canada down tomorrow and they would make no impact? Emissions don't respect borders. I repeat, emissions don't respect borders.

So what more do you want us to do? We are 1.5%, which is a speck in an ocean full of emissions. Now, what we can do is export our LNG to countries that are burning coal.

Mike: Thank you. Thank you for the call. Okay, Gillian, we hear this argument frequently that Canada, small population is just a small part of the problem. Your thoughts?

Jillian: Well, why do we not want to be part of the solution? Why do we not want to join the rest of the world in terms of this transition? Why do we want to be left behind?

I mean, the International Energy Agency is telling us that there's more money going into renewable energy now than there is into oil and gas. So why do we not want to be part of that?

I mean, Cody's mentioned that we're a leader. Well, let's make ourselves even more of a leader instead of lagging behind.

Mike: Cody, what do you say to that?

Cody: I would just say that with our reliance on the energy of today, we have to continue to invest in it while we also look to tomorrow and Canada is not a laggard. Canada is a leader.

We're like 80% of our power in this country comes from hydro, nuclear, wind. We're 7th in the world I believe, for installed renewable capacity. With hydro. We're like 9th for wind, 9th in the world for installed wind capacity. And we have, like, the …largest country.

We're already punching well above our weight. We need to balance with fires. We need better firefighting. More firefighting equipment to help the brave women and men fighting those fires. We need to also look at continuing to reduce emissions.

I mentioned oil and gas emissions peaked eight years ago, but production is up since, because of technology. Global demand for energy is growing across the board for all things. Africa, Asia they want to live a better quality of life, and they're going to use whatever energy they have that's reliable and affordable so we need all of the above.

Mike: Jack in Vancouver on the open line. Hi, Jack, go ahead.

Jack: oh, hi just two things first, your guest mentioned solutions. Why isn't anybody hitting on China for cranking out coal-fired plants for their energy needs? They're cranking them like hotcakes.

We pay the consequences here via higher taxes. Nobody's saying anything or punishing China. Second thing is how about the natural phenomenon that happened last year? The volcanic phenomenon in Tonga is considered one of the biggest volcano eruptions. Bigger, I think even Mount St. Helens. Apparently, if you look it up, 1.5 degrees hotter in the next five years.

Mike: Jillian, the argument that China is burning all this coal to generate power there I mean, that's not deniable, but you frequently hear the argument and Cody has already mentioned it, that we'd be better off selling them our liquefied natural gas burns cleaner than coal and then the planet would be better off. So we should keep going and maybe even ramp up natural gas production. in Canada.

Jillian: You know that has been put forward as a solution, for sure. But let's not forget that China, which is the largest contributor to carbon emissions in the world, is also a leader in solar, wind, electrification.

I mean, they have been going all out in terms of that and they are actually in many ways way ahead of where the United States is or any other country.

So yes, they are burning coal but at the same time they are making huge leaps in terms of turning to renewables and electrification.

Mike: Cody, what do you say to that? Go ahead.

Cody: I just got to say that almost sounded like kudos to China for building out coal-fired power plants while also investing in wind and solar. And I haven't necessarily heard the same level of positivity for Canada, where we've peaked oil and gas emissions.

Our LNG will reduce global emissions, and we're also leading in wind and solar. So there's a bit of a disparity there.

I just want us to be balanced. I want us to, again, respect the people who have lost their homes. It's a tragedy. Maybe we can all donate whatever we can that's meaningful to us if we're in a position to do so.

We need more firefighting equipment. We need to look at all of these things. But shutting down Canadian oil and gas is not the answer because it's replaced by Saudi Arabia, the United States, other producers.

As the global population grows, we need more Canada, not less.

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