Progress Vs. Process

Much has been said, debated, written, tweeted and blogged about regulatory reforms, the need for a Canadian Energy Strategy, west coast market access, pipeline projects, and oil sands development. That’s a lot of information for anyone to consume.

But, the reality is that for the majority of Canadians, these discussions are not in the forefront of their minds. Just because energy and regulation is fundamental; how else do we safely drive around, heat our home, and get the best price for Canadian products; that doesn’t mean that most Canadians have the time or interest to delve into the world of policy debates and rhetoric.

These debates tend to be framed by experts and interest groups, and sadly, a few commentators, who are more concerned about scoring media and political points than explaining what is really going on.

We also know that oil and gas is important to Canada. We use it everyday in various different forms, from inserting our contact lenses to washing our dishes, and to the most obvious, driving our cars. In fact, a recent poll confirmed that about 75% of our population believes oil and gas is important to Canadians. However, in that same poll, only about 40% thought that pipelines were important even though there seems to be lots of interest in pipelines these days. So, that makes you wonder….without pipelines, how do we get the oil and gas to markets efficiently and safely and ultimately into our homes and offices?

We think that because of the scope of our operations and the role we play in moving oil and gas products over long distances, we are well placed to explain what is going on. When you think of transmission pipelines, think of them as underground energy highways that transport our valuable products, such as oil and gas, to market. If pipelines weren’t built using private capital investments, they would still be needed, and just like our roads and highways, they would have to be built using government money. So, it matters that Canada is able to be competitive and attract private investment for energy infrastructure; we all know government coffers are stretched.

These energy highways are the safest way to transport oil and gas. They successfully cross over multiple provincial boundaries even international ones. And, they’ve been doing it for years. They cross over different types of land forms and uses, such as rivers and populated areas, in the same way that above ground highways do. But, in order to keep Canadians safe, these energy highway projects are subject to environmental assessments, public consultation, and life-long strict standards and oversight. ll that makes sense so far, but here’s the problem. In the last 10 to 15 years, we’re seeing pipeline project proponents, stakeholders and regulators spending more and more time and money in regulatory reviews and trying to meet process requirements, rather than spending the same amount of effort on actions that could make a real difference.

Many of our member companies spend millions of dollars on meeting countless regulatory process requirements before anything tangible happens on the ground. It seems, it would make a lot more sense to use our limited resources to actually solve the problem, rather than tying ourselves up in regulatory processes.

Also, it’s not the size of an environmental assessment process that will determine a better environmental or social outcome; it’s the implementation of a practical solution that will make a real difference for an ecosystem or local community. That takes a good understanding of how major projects are planned and executed with a single regulator that has in-depth knowledge of safety, environmental, and social issues linked to these projects and has the experience in balancing local and national interests. It also requires the regulator to have the expertise and discipline to consult fairly, gather core evidence and evaluate facts that matters to the decision and make the decision within predictable timelines. All those factors combined would generate practical solutions to challenges posed by resource and infrastructure development.

We’re hoping that the anticipated announcement by the federal government to improve Canada’s environmental review process will help alleviate some of the regulatory hurdles and make room for actual results. This would be an important step forward for all Canadians, and especially those committed to sustainable development.

Dr. Brenda Kenny

President & CEO

Canadian Energy Pipeline Association