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COLUMN: Greed will pave road to redemption for our heavy crude

"Appealing to reason through various touchy-feely, social-media campaigns stressing the legitimate benefits oil and gas is doomed to fail.
Nelson Chris web
Columnist Chris Nelson

A kinder, gentler reincarnation of Alberta’s infamous War Room is now determined upon a "hearts and minds" strategy in support of the province’s energy industry.

It’s about as likely to bear fruit as the similar tactic employed long ago by American president Lyndon B. Johnson as a way to persuade the Vietnamese to love and cherish all those U.S. soldiers messing about in their country.

Anyhow, this latest incarnation, aimed at changing values and attitudes of those in Eastern Canada and the northern U.S., comes courtesy of the province’s Canadian Energy Centre — yes, that’s the proper name of the War Room, though few ever call it by that official moniker.

The group, set up when Jason Kenney’s UCP government first took power, is now asking for public submissions that demonstrate an ability to change negative perceptions about our oil and gas.

Much of this win-them-over-with-sweet-talk campaign owes its genesis to the cancelling, four years ago, of the Energy East pipeline to take Alberta crude to New Brunswick and, more recently, its southbound cousin, the Keystone XL project. Both fell victim to constant negative lobbying from the environmental movement.

OK, perhaps we can save War Room staffers the bother of opening all future entries in this contest to sway the collective hearts and minds of those currently opposed to Alberta energy.

Nope, appealing to reason through various touchy-feely, social-media campaigns stressing the legitimate benefits oil and gas is doomed to fail.

Instead, there’s a simpler and coarser strategy that will work, relying as it does upon that most common of human foibles: greed. Yes, the road to redemption for our heavy crude flows straight through opponents’ pocketbooks.

Look no further than current U.S. President Joe Biden for validation of such a strategy.

Remember it was Biden who put the final nail in the Keystone project, deeming it so important he delivered the blow on his first week in office, back in January.

Oh, we couldn’t have that nasty heavy oil from those despicable oilsands sullying the very heartland of America as it flowed south to Gulf refineries, claimed Biden.

Yet, six months later, a funny thing happened to this moral stand on behalf of Mother Earth and American apple pie.

There he was, the same Joe Biden, appealing to OPEC to boost oil production. Why? Because gas prices at the pump were nearing four bucks a gallon in parts of the U.S. and suddenly the ire of Americans wasn’t about despoiling the planet but instead about the increasing cost of filling up.

And with inflation already starting to run hot in the U.S., potentially forcing the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates from virtually zero to fight that trend, stopping rising gas prices from further fuelling that fire became vital.

Meanwhile, what about those Gulf refineries thirsting for oil to process? The Venezuelan stuff was already off limits due to sanctions and suddenly the promise of future Alberta crude was dashed.

What’s a concerned president to do with lots of refining jobs suddenly at risk? Well, where else to find a suitable fuel source than good old Mother Russia?

Yes, while the naïve might swoon at such blatant hypocrisy, the U.S. started boosting oil shipments from Russia to fill this gap, so much so it has now overtaken Mexico and become the second most prolific energy supplier to America. (Canada’s still number one — at least for now).

So, forget about hearts and minds: neither plays much part in politics or popular opinion, either side of the border. Instead, strategically limit further supply, thereby forcing up the cost and watch greed do the rest.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.