For someone who likes to talk about the need to move “at the speed of business,” Jason Kenney is being remarkably patient with his public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns. The government of Alberta quietly granted commissioner Steve Allan a fourth extension on his long-overdue homework, originally scheduled to be submitted last July. The delivery date is now a full year later, and Allan is not the only one getting an extension. The government can take up to an additional three months after that — assuming it actually gets filed — before the report must be released to the public.
From the very outset, the inquiry looked far more like an attempt to play the bully than a genuine effort to understand the nature and intent behind the campaigns that have targeted Alberta’s oilsands over the last decade. But after four extensions and an additional $1 million in funding, it’s clear that the only thing it’s turning up is excuses. And regardless of its provenance, the impact of the Tar Sands Campaign that the Allan inquiry is tasked with investigating will look positively quaint compared with the changes already underway in global energy markets.
Last week, for example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) laid out its road map to a net-zero economy that won’t require any additional investment in new oil and gas projects. Instead, the world would see a combination of behavioural changes (lower speed limits, less short-haul air travel) and industrial recalibration towards zero-emission sources of energy. By 2030, the global economy would be 40 per cent larger than today but use seven per cent less energy. Electric vehicles would surge from five per cent of global sales to more than 60 per cent.
That number might be low, if Thursday evening’s launch of Ford’s electric F-150 is any indication. After all, while Tesla may have made electric vehicles cool, Ford will make them popular — and ubiquitous. As Robinson Meyer noted in a piece for The Atlantic, “receipts from F-Series trucks alone exceed Coca-Cola’s annual corporate revenue; that of every major U.S. sports league, combined; or Disney’s global theme-park business.” And after accounting for U.S. subsidies, the F-150 Lightning will cost just $32,000 — less than the comparable gasoline-powered alternative.
That will surely get the attention of the American consumer, and it’s already won plaudits from President Joe Biden. But it’s on the fleet side of the equation where it could prove most transformative. “For the first time,” Meyer writes, “fleet managers will be able to see the location of all their trucks on a map, and they will be able to monitor their charge levels remotely. This combination of lower fuel costs and greater workplace surveillance strikes me as all but guaranteeing the electrification of many corporate fleets.”
Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough? According to Ford, the Lightning can store so much electricity that in a blackout — like, say, Texas’s recent experience — it could meet a house’s normal usage needs for three full days. “The Lightning is a technology of resilience, of climate adaptation,” Meyer writes.
But for those who have invested their identities, careers or financial portfolios in the oil and gas industry’s future, this truck and the adaptation it portends is hell on wheels. And when combined with the IEA’s ambitious road map, it creates a threat the likes of which Alberta’s fossil-fuelled government hasn’t seen before — one that a loose coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations, foreign-funded or not, couldn’t dream of replicating.
So far, it’s one the government of Alberta seems unprepared to handle. “The implication in this report that jurisdictions like Canada should accept massive job losses and negative impacts on public revenues that fund health care, education and social services is unacceptable,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a prepared statement.
Never mind the fact that Alberta has already seen massive job losses as oil and gas companies respond to lower prices with a combination of reduced activity and increased use of automation and technology. Those trends will surely continue going forward, as the global oil market becomes both more competitive and more desperate as demand starts to slow. For Savage, it seems, the best way to contend with this new reality is to pretend it doesn’t really exist.
Her boss, Premier Jason Kenney, was equally unwilling to accept the report’s implications. “The best last barrel of oil will come from Alberta, Canada,” he told reporters. That may be. But one barrel can’t sustain an economy that’s built on selling millions of them every day, and all the war rooms in the world aren’t going to discourage people from buying an electric vehicle when dozens of new models are now coming onto the market. If Kenney really wants to help Alberta’s oil and gas workers, he can start by finally telling them the truth. While he’s at it, he should tell the Allan inquiry to do the same.