David Yager is an energy policy analyst, oil and gas writer and author of From Miracle to Menace: Alberta, A Carbon Story.
Why did you write your book?
Yager: As the climate change issue grew, it was accompanied by more advice that Alberta move from a sunset industry – fossil fuels – to renewables. B.C. Premier John Horgan counselled Albertans to forget the past and move away from oil. Then we wouldn’t need the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Canada is the fifth largest combined oil and gas producing jurisdiction in the world. It is the largest private sector industry behind only residential housing. So many of those telling Alberta what to do next have no idea how big this business is, how many people are employed, and the massive and painful transition required to exit the business.
I got so frustrated I wrote a book about it: Alberta through the eyes of its coal, oil and natural gas industries.
Alberta is located in the most geographically isolated region of North America. Because of enormous carbon resources, Alberta has over four million people while Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana and North Dakota have about a million or less. If you know everything in this book, then you are an informed voter and entitled to your opinion. If you don’t, you should ….
What’s the main message of your book?
Yager: The opening line reads, “The current debate about climate change and what mankind should do about it has deteriorated to the point of absurdity.” I’m not a climate change denier nor do I dispute the science. But the public debate about Canada’s future climate policy completely lacks a global perspective, particularly now that it is so politicized.
I researched the history of climate change to understand how – with all the problems we have in the world – did the CO2 content of the atmosphere become the greatest challenge for mankind for so many.
The book also explores global energy demand, population growth, income disparity, the Internet, professional environmentalists, human psychology and ambitious politicians. Today’s climate debate is intertwined with wealth redistribution, doctrinaire socialism, commercial environmentalism, and investors looking to capitalize on legislated renewable energy sources.
This is a very complex subject. But the main message of the book is simple: Destroying Alberta’s economy and fossil fuel industries so you can chase votes or sleep better at night will not solve this problem without global co-operation.
Alberta can make a great contribution through responsible and efficient fossil fuel extraction and exploitation, something the world needs. But not if we’re broke.
How important is the upcoming federal election to Alberta’s economy?
Yager: Whenever oil becomes a federal election issue it pits one region of the country against another. This is particularly true now that Canada is so urbanized, with over 80 per cent of the population living in towns and cities.
The book revisits the early 1980s when the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau were in power. Back then there was too little oil and it cost too much. Ottawa ignored provincial constitutional resource ownership and control and the battle was on. The backlash over the National Energy Program divided the country.
Today the climate change issue is caused by too much oil that doesn’t cost enough. The Liberals will run on their record, which includes cancelling pipelines, introducing carbon taxes, banning tankers, and introducing an energy project review process Alberta strongly opposes.
The Green Party wants to go further and actually shrink Alberta’s fossil fuel business, as does the NDP. This is the first time that two major political leaders are running campaigns that will destroy employment. They’re happy to trade votes for oil jobs, promising mass transit and public transportation which are entirely urban issues.
If the wrong people control the national political agenda, Alberta’s economy is in even more trouble than today.
What would be the worst-case scenario as a result in that election and why?
Yager: The worst-case scenario is another Liberal majority government. This means Canadians approve of all the Liberal policies of the past four years, Justin Trudeau’s significant personal indiscretions, and are prepared to accept more of the same. This includes the SNC-Lavalin and Admiral Mark Norman fiascos and chasing away foreign investment from Alberta.
This will be a terrible message to international investors who are already avoiding Canada’s oil patch.
Since the Liberals are unlikely to win a single seat in Alberta and only a handful on the Prairies, this will again pit the West against the rest of the country, particularly Quebec and Ontario. It will be a return to the intense polarization that characterized Pierre Trudeau’s regime.
Many conclude that a Liberal government propped up by the Greens and NDP would be worse. But realistically, how much worse can it get? What can they do that they haven’t done? Would the Greens and NDP force the Liberals to cancel Trans Mountain or LNG Canada? Would the Liberals waste $4.5 billion and halt expansion construction just to stay in power? Would Canadians approve of that?
I don’t see a Liberal minority government lasting very long.
What’s the new reality for Alberta’s oil patch? Will we ever return to the pre-2014 days?
Yager: In 40 years writing about Alberta oil I have seen many ‘new normals,’ defined as whatever happened yesterday will continue forever.
A few years ago there was a natural gas shortage. Thanks to new technology, it’s everywhere and fetches 90 per cent less. The U.S. was in steep decline as an oil producer. Now it’s the world’s fastest-growing source, which has cut the price in half. Ontario Liberals spent a fortune trying to be leaders in renewable energy. That government was sent packing and now Ontario leads the legal challenge against federal carbon taxes. Climate change is a powerful new twist.
That’s the title of the book, petroleum going from miracle to menace. But no matter what you read or hear from Canadian politicians, respected forecasters all believe global energy demand will be 30 per cent higher in 20 years than today and fossil fuels will continue as the primary source. The Middle East, the big oil supplier, is no more stable today than in the past.
Will it ever be like it was prior to 2014?
Unlike so many, I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is the herd is almost always wrong.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.