Alberta's energy minister says it's a good time to build a pipeline because public health restrictions limit protests against them.

Sonya Savage made the comment Friday on a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. She was asked about progress of the Trans Mountain Expansion project, which is under construction on its route between Edmonton and Vancouver.

"Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can't have protests of more than 15 people," Savage said. "Let's get it built."

While the interviewer laughs, Savage does not.

Unprompted, Savage goes on to suggest that the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic favours pipeline construction.

"People are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working," she said on the podcast, which was posted on the association's website.

"People need jobs and those types of ideological protests that get in the way are not going to be tolerated by ordinary Canadians."

Savage's spokesman acknowledged in an email that she was on the podcast.

"We respect the right to lawful protests," said Kavi Bal.

"I would note that the limitations to public gatherings ... have benefited no one — including project proponents and any opposition groups."

Both Alberta and B.C. have increased their limits to 50 people for outdoor gatherings.

Gathering limits make it a 'great time to be building a pipeline:' Alberta minister

Irfan Sabir, the Opposition New Democrat energy critic, called Savage's comments more of the same for the government.

"These comments do not come as a shock," he said.

"The UCP have already used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend environmental monitoring. When combined with the minister’s latest comments, this will harm the reputation of Alberta’s energy industry and inhibit our ability to attract investment and get our product to market."

Jason Kenney's United Conservative government has a mixed record on protesters.

The premier defended the right to protest in the case of a man recently arrested at the legislature as he was protesting against public health lockdown orders. Kenney said at the time that he would modify such orders to ensure they didn't interfere with that right, as long as guidelines were being respected.

The government has less tolerance for civil disobedience.

In February, it introduced legislation imposing stiff fines and possible jail terms for protesters who damage or even interfere with the operation of a wide range of energy infrastructure — although such acts are already illegal. The bill has passed and awaits royal assent to come into force.

A similar bill carrying increased trespassing punishments for animal rights protesters at agricultural facilities came into force in December.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020

"We're falling behind in our quest to cook the planet so this pandemic has been a great gift!" These brainwashed fools just don't get it. Stephen Harper should have made a push to diversify Alberta industry when he had the chance. Some Albertans think that their problem is the "Laurentian Elites" when it's really the foolishness of Western conservatives. Why do I have a feeling that one of the basic tenets of the so-called "conservative movement" is the thoughtless deification of Big Oil?

Is cooking the planet in the DNA of folks like Kenney and Savage?

"The UCP have already used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend environmental monitoring. When combined with the minister’s latest comments, this will harm the reputation of Alberta’s energy industry and inhibit our ability to attract investment and get our product to market."

So says the Alberta NDP opposition.

Well, it's not just the reputation of the Alberta "energy" (read: fossil fuel) industry but the economic coherence of said industry that is under question. The oil industry had captured the government long ago. It's an old and sad tale. The opposition critique indicates that the NDP have not escaped captivity either, though one may quibble that they still have a couple of small appendages and half a brain sticking out of the net while the UCP are full in.

Meanwhile, GM just announced that they are close to releasing a million mile battery. So is Tesla. GM said that they have eliminated cobalt from the battery, and that has brought the cost of the entire vehicle model range down to the same level as cars running on combustion. With the extraordinarily low operating costs of EVs, that makes the consumer choice a no-brainer, especially if the feds and provinces (with the obvious exception of Alberta) offer grants for zero emission vehicles.

Moreover, the seeming dim bulbs running the province have clearly not done the math on world and continental oil demand. Actually no. They likely have run the numbers and are keeping the results hidden under piles of draft propaganda talking points. There is a world wide glut. Prices will remain low for quite a while yet. Joe Biden, if elected, will shut down Keystone. TMX is still under at least one Indigenous court case.

Oil sands oil is expensive, time consuming to ramp up and energy intensive, and cannot possibly compete with the Saudis and Russians when they choose to quickly increase the water cut on their diminishing and very cheap resource, temporarily flooding the market to create havoc. It's a well-worn tactic and Alberta's angst has no effect whatsoever on demand destruction in world market conditions.

Though US shale may be reaching a turning point forced by debt, low prices caused by a glut they initially created (with Alberta's help pre-2014), and oncoming geological production peaks, Alberta's huge oil sands production plants take a long time and a lot of money to fire up once they've been shuttered. This is the very definition of a stranded asset.

Along with the million mile car battery are ever cheaper renewables and emerging affordable high-capacity electricity storage (e.g. liquid metal batteries). The consumer will have a huge array of inexpensive clean choices in front of them in less than five years. This decade will be remarkable not just for starting with an historic pandemic, but in all likelihood as the make-it-or-break-it decade for the electrification of the domestic and increasingly the world economies.

Please Alberta, at least try to stay on the surface while the world swirls by.

This is the new face of democracy in Alberta, and the Energy Minister could be it’s poster child. For anyone so inclined, get caught up on what is happening to Alberta’s education system, health care, (and the fight the UCP started with doctors just as COVID was ramping up), environment, Alberta’s provincial park system (which is being gutted just as long-standing policy restricting surface disturbances in the foothills and mountains within the province are being rescinded). It’s probably not coincidence that many of the provincial parks on death row are in high value areas for coal, oil and gas exploration. And while the UCP say they are not going to sell provincial Crown Land (already a proven lie), there is nothing to prevent them from leasing ecologically sensitive areas to the highest bidder, and based on their performance to date, it’s a sure bet they will do just that. There is no precedent for what is happening in Alberta at this sad time in the provinces history, and it has no parallel unless one looks south of the border, or maybe Brazil.