What the pandemic is teaching the energy industry - The Orca
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What the pandemic is teaching the energy industry

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Terry Etam: COVID-19 has laid bare some truths for Canada’s energy industry – and, possibly, created an opportunity.

When the lockdown is all over, what is the world going to look like?

Some aspects of the reversion to the mean will be predictable – as soon as social distancing is no longer a health imperative, bars and restaurants across the country will explode like Stampede at its finest. Well, maybe not that extreme, there’s only so much liquor available, but it will be some party.

Travel will tentatively resume, and even those who “hate the mall” will no doubt feel pretty good walking into a store and buying whatever the hell they want without feeling like they’d just escaped from a penitentiary.

In the energy world, the opportunities will be ample as well. A locked-down coronavirus-world has made certain truths clear to a lot of people, truths that energy providers have long held to be self-evident, but are not.

We can all now see how critically important reliable energy supplies are, and how taken for granted they were. We will have seen that a global lockdown resulted in a massive drop in demand for oil of 30 million barrels per day – but even this close to a true standstill, that the world still required 70 million barrels per day.

We can all now see how critically important reliable energy supplies are.

We will have seen that demand for natural gas will hardly have fallen at all, and that, as China is showing, once life goes back to normal, energy consumption will rise back to levels similar to pre-pandemic. And when it does, we will have more clearly seen the pollutive footprint of collective human activity, and can map out ways to make that better.

As suppliers of that vital energy, we would be making a mistake to just quietly go back to work expecting the general public has now finally been properly energy-educated, that they now “get it.” The same people who have been working to convince you of the “evils of fossil fuels” will be back at it again. It will take time for citizenry to be open to these overly-simplistic, good vs. evil messages again, but those groups are well-financed and, they are not paid to solve.

Big energy leaders, we need you to step up and take the lead. We don’t need you on your heels pandering to the groups and politicians that spent all of 2019 trying to wipe you off the map. We need you to set the record straight. We need you to make it crystal clear that Canada is an exporting nation, that exporting nations emit more per capita than importing nations do, and that we will no longer apologize for being the world’s natural resource pantry. We need to be forthright that we can do it better, but we need to be firm that Canada will not and cannot turn its back on resource development.

Big energy leaders, we need you to step up and take the lead.

We don’t need a Canadian energy centre. We don’t need grandiose websites making true but irrelevant points that make the world think we’re out of touch. We need you to hire the right people to get in the game – that means not just getting some millennials, but listening to them. Don’t pretend you understand social media, hire people that do, and let them run.

We need you to elaborate clearly to Ottawa just how a national energy system should work. We need you to explain the importance of stable and reliable fuel sources that Canada is overwhelmingly rich in. We need you to explain that renewables are welcome, and to explain with crystal clarity how they will fit into a functional energy system, not define it.

We need you to form committees and action groups and demand to be heard, and crowd your opponents off the stage not with lobbying efforts, but with relevant education efforts. We need you to demand federal ministers spend time in the energy trenches of Western Canada, not in UN climate conferences in Tahiti. We need you to take business-oriented Indigenous leaders to Ottawa with you, and make sure both voices are heard, together and forcefully.

We need you to spearhead massive reinvention strategies like, for example, a national hydrogen strategy just as Australia has done. We need you to come up with realistic plans to work with governments of all levels to take care of abandonment liability issues, market access, and methane emissions reduction strategies.

We need to be at the table providing input, not passive and angry on the sidelines.

We need you to spearhead massive reinvention strategies like, for example, a national hydrogen strategy just as Australia has done.

We, as the hydrocarbon industry, need to catalogue what is real and what is aspirational not just for Canada’s energy policy, but for what’s going on in our backyard. We need to recognize that part of our business is acknowledging that the playing field may not be fair but that life isn’t always fair.

We need to stop wasting time moaning that Ottawa doesn’t care about energy. They just don’t – and that’s not entirely evil, but a natural instinct to take for granted that which is always there. It’s just like any big city (yes, even Calgary) doesn’t normally care where its toilet paper comes from.

In some ways, Ottawa’s energy apathy is a backhanded compliment; we keep doing what we do, and we’re not in their face asking for handouts (hello, Bombardier) to keep working. In fact, all we want is for the government to uphold the laws to allow the hydrocarbon sector to do its job, and then get out of the way.

Post-coronavirus, we’re all going to reengage life with a vengeance. We’re also at a crossroads where the value of our existing supply chains, including and especially reliable energy, could not have been made more crystal clear.

Let’s seize that opportunity. Let’s move.

(originally published at The BOE Report)

Terry Etam is 25-year veteran of Canada’s energy business and author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity. He has worked at a number of occupations spanning the finance, accounting, communications, and trading aspects of energy, and has written for several years on his own website Public Energy Number One and the BOE Report. He lives in Calgary, Alberta with his family and, for some reason, a little dog. Terry can be reached at  tetam462@gmail.com.

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