April 23, 2019
Filed under: The Province, Op-Ed, April 22, 2019
Brian Owen: It’s time to appreciate again what the oil industry gives us
In these polarized times, organizations and movements commonly find themselves positioned against a foe. Certainly, the energy industry has opposing forces that do not wish it well.
The extreme, yet common, view of opponents of the oil, gas, and pipeline industry is that it is evil and about to destroy the world as we know it. The predominant concern about the industry is that carbon emissions from petroleum have led and will continue to lead to catastrophic climate change.
There are motivated, and in some cases well-funded, industry antagonists around the world with some fact-based arguments that are impossible to ignore.
Those carrying the banner of the industry argue that it makes a positive contribution to society by providing jobs, quality products, enhanced standard of living and economic growth. They also argue that safeguards minimize the probability of environmental pollution. Proponents lament that benefits and environmental safeguards have not been effectively explained. That’s hardly true — the same arguments in favour of the industry have been trucked out over and over and have repeatedly not convinced. A definition of folly.
Rethinking industry messaging is in order. I recently heard an address delivered by Joy Romero, the vice-president of technology and innovation for Canadian Natural Resources, that could be key to developing a compelling new argument about how the industry is viewed. My takeaway from Romero’s simple, common sense presentation founded on history: technology has solved many past energy industry challenges and can do so again in the future.
This brings me to two insights that inevitably lead to a third, controversial conclusion:
1. The historical context of the energy industry is important.
2. Technology ultimately finds solutions to problems and improves our lives.
3. Wait for it: An unapologetic understanding of the goodness of benefits from the industry.
Number 3 takes us deep into history to recognize our seminal source of heat, light and power: the sun.
Life comes from the sun — we would not exist without it. Therefore, the sun and energy are fundamentally “good”. The sun used to be worshipped. We learned prehistorically to harness sources of energy. There was evolution from wood fire to coal, hydroelectricity, petroleum and nuclear. People created the technology to use all these types of energy. All energy sources, except nuclear, are sun derivatives. Essential to life though they are, energy sources are not benign: fire can destroy and kill, water can drown, sunshine can create cancers, coal burning can pollute, petroleum combustion can pollute. At the same time, technology has provided ways to control adverse effects. London’s historically notorious air quality was improved, scrubbers control smokestack emissions, internal combustion engines have catalytic converters, and recently, carbon dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere and re-used. We have found ways to evolve energy usage and decrease emissions.
We currently face a worsening crisis of global warming. We must acknowledge that the energy industry is a major contributor. Industry leaders need to recognize the fears of people and provide factual information to allay them, making the public more aware of what is being done to apply technological solutions to climate issues.
Experts in energy companies have a high level of knowledge about the seriousness of the issues surrounding the impact of the petroleum industry on emissions. Within the industry, much work is being done in relative obscurity, on a range of technologically solutions. The industry has the opportunity to take the lead by communicating the solutions that exist or are being worked on. The rest of us could and should understand what a valuable resource we have, and shine some light on it. We are all in this together.
Brian Owen is CEO and chair of NRG Research Group, a leading Canadian public affairs and market research company with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto.
NRG Research Group