En­ergy in­dus­try de­serves our ap­pre­ci­a­tion

Mes­sag­ing needs to fo­cus on ben­e­fits, pos­i­tive out­look, Brian Owen writes.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - 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.

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 fact­based 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, 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 take-away from Romero’s com­mon-sense pre­sen­ta­tion founded on his­tory: tech­nol­ogy has solved many past en­ergy in­dus­try chal­lenges and can do so again.

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.

Within the in­dus­try, much work is be­ing done in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity on a range of tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions.

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 reused. 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 ef­fect of the petroleum in­dus­try on emis­sions.

Within the in­dus­try, much work is be­ing done in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity on a range of tech­no­log­i­cal 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.

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