Oil and gas here to stay for ‘decades’ despite demand for green energy: Alberta energy minister

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage wants the federal government to treat Alberta’s oil and gas reserves as a strategic asset, not a liability to phase out in favour of green energy sources.

During a press conference on Friday, Savage said Western democracies have been exclusively focused on climate change to the detriment of energy security, reliability and affordability. She pointed to federal policies such as Bill C-69 and emissions caps on oil and gas production as evidence that the federal government is vilifying Alberta’s energy industries.

“Yes, the world is in an energy transition. We need to address climate change, and we are doing that, but the transition is going to take time and it’s not going to be easy. Oil and gas will continue to be used during that transition for decades,” Savage said.

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Savage also claimed the failure to prioritize energy security has made energy production difficult in North America which resulted in a transfer of wealth to places like Russia and Venezuela. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted the need for “ethical” oil from Canada instead of places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, Savage said.

“It is terribly frustrating to see the U.S. government now scrambling to increase supply from some of the world’s worst regimes: Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela,” she said.

“We have an industry that’s committed to net-zero production in the oilsands. We’re a responsible democratic government, so it is very frustrating.”

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Savage’s comment comes as the federal carbon tax is set to increase from under nine cents to 11 cents a litre on April 1, a move that Environmental and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) says is a central part of the federal government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

READ MORE: Canada’s program to cut greenhouse-gas emissions is failing, audit shows

“It’s completely true to say that during the transition away from fossil fuels, we still rely on fossil fuels,” said Werner Antweiler, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “I think the real question is … what kind of policies can be put into place to deal with that transition?”

Antweiler also criticized the Alberta government’s aversion to the carbon tax and said carbon pricing is the most efficient way to put a price on the climate crisis because regulations are not sufficient.

Premier Jason Kenney previously said he is opposed to the federal carbon tax because it is punishing people for consuming energy.

“When there’s a price on pollution, the industry will figure out the most efficient way to reduce emissions … Alberta is saying that we don’t need a carbon tax even though there is a climate crisis, so this is just another form of denying that there is a problem,” Antweiler said.

“That is what I could never understand about the approach from Alberta, where they want to rely on regulation when it is perfectly clear to everyone who understands the subject matter that putting a price on pollution is a superior way of doing that.”

READ MORE: Is Canada’s carbon tax working? Experts, advocacy groups weigh in

Savage’s comment also comes after U.S. President Joe Biden banned imports of Russian oil on Tuesday, a move that critics say would be the best way to force Moscow to pull back from Ukraine. Kenney has called for an increased role for Canadian oil and gas, saying the U.S. can replace “conflict oil” from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela with Albertan oil.

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But experts say the concept of ethical oil simply doesn’t exist.

“There is no such thing as ethical oil, it’s a made-up concept, because how exactly do you define ethical? What metric is used to define ethical oil? What is ethical is in the eye of the beholder?” Antweiler asked.

READ MORE: Biden announces U.S. ban on Russian oil imports as Ukraine war rages

Sourayan Mookerjea, a sociology professor at the University of Calgary, said oil produced in Canada is no different from oil produced anywhere else in the world with regards to global warming, environmental justice and violence against Indigenous women.

“Canadian oil production is enabled by the foundational and accumulated violence of colonialism and the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. While nothing justifies the Russian government’s aggression in Ukraine, the problem of oligarchs is not only a Russian problem,” he said in an emailed statement to 770 CHQR.

770 CHQR reached out to ECCC with requests for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.