Vancouver, B.C. — Energy experts gathered here today for the North American Energy Security Dialogues said energy producers need to do more to earn the public’s trust before they move ahead with new projects.
“Regular people don’t work inside the industry and what they see scares them,” said Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackermanwho stressed improving the public’s understanding would reduce anxiety. “Don’t assume people understand your acronyms.”
Dialogues host Randy Kerr of the Canadian Natural Resource Alliance referred to the “new normal” of energy projects facing opposition from organized environmental activists, a topic which was discussed at the first Energy Security Dialogues at the Embassy of Canada in Washington D.C. (Link). Panelists agreed unfettered facts are key to defusing the politicization of energy politics.
“This has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with safety,” says Brigham McCown, who led pipeline safety oversight at the U.S. Department of Transportation under U.S. Secretary Norm Mineta. “There have been shifts and changes” in the public’s view of energy pipelines. “Transport has an enviable safety record. We’ve gone from corrosion to third -party digging being the biggest safety threat.
“People want to know what is going on,” says Matt Koch from The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “People in Pennsylvania want to hear what is going on in North Dakota. The more we talk the more we fill the gap of knowledge,” which exists among the public.
“People are expecting to be engaged in a much bigger way,” says Geoff Morrison of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “We have a much bigger social license challenge today. The people who consume energy don’t think of where it comes from.”
In person outreach and relationship building is key.
“You have to get along the routes, get into the coffee shops,” said Michael Zehr of Consumer Energy Alliance. “We have been playing catch up for so long we need to have a shift with how we approach issues.”
What is the economic potential for Canada and the United States?
Randall Luthi, who served in three presidential administrations, told the Dialogues “Washington, DC has an us versus them” attitude, which is stalling progress, but pointed to Canada as an example of how to move ahead in exploring for energy in the Arctic and offshore.
“The U.S. talks a lot about Arctic, but you [Canada] have experience working in the Arctic. You are in the game. Frankly, the U.S. is not in the game. We are right on the verge on getting further behind in Arctic development. “
Luthi is optimistic, but cautious.
“Hopefully by 2014 or 2015 there will be new permits to explore in Chukchi Sea or Beaufort Sea.”
Luthi pointed out the U.S. Government is slow to issue permits for “seismic work” which is the first step in understanding energy resource potential offshore.
Environmental organizations such as Oceana are providing a disservice to the public leading them to believe mammal life is negatively affected despite there never being a connection between seismic and health or welfare of mammals.
David Ramsay, a Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment for the Northwest Territories, said he is keeping a close eye on several projects, which could impact job creation.
“You just say fracking and people think it is bad,” says Ramsay. “We have to separate the fact from the fiction. We can’t let people from Toronto or California muddy the waters on us creating new jobs.”
Heather Kennedy of Suncor, a Canadian-based energy producer, echoed that the key to both countries is tapping the job creation potential.
“We need the public’s permission, regulatory authority and the ability to make a profit. These are the three things we need to succeed.”