If you want to know what someone really thinks, watch what they do rather than what they say.
That’s especially true when they have a multimillion-dollar marketing budget at their disposal, like Suncor Energy. That’s why for all its good talk about reaching net-zero emissions, Suncor’s decision to hire Rich Kruger, the retired ex-CEO of Imperial Oil, as its new CEO speaks so loudly. After all, if you’re trying to build a forward-looking energy company of the future, you don’t usually pull someone from the industry’s past off the golf course to do it.
Kruger is the outspoken former CEO of Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil. That’s a company with a long and detailed history of denying climate change and then, when that no longer worked, slow-walking efforts to address it. After heavily advertising an algae-based biofuel program for more than a decade as its contribution to addressing the climate crisis, ExxonMobil quietly walked away from it late last year.
If you happen to work in sustainable development for Suncor, you might want to update your resume — or at the very least prepare for a change in your job description.
Suncor’s hardly the only oil company playing back-to-the-future right now, mind you. BP, which had been talking about reducing its oil output by 40 per cent by the end of this decade, instead announced in early February that it would increase spending on oil and gas development (along with a similar increase in renewable projects) by approximately $1 billion per year. After raking in a record $27.7 billion last year, it apparently wasn’t quite so willing to give up its golden goose just yet. “This feels, to us, an important moment for the oil and gas industry,” Alastair Syme, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a note to clients in early February.
You might think, given these enormous profits, that Canada’s oil and gas companies would at least have the decency to invest their own money in the carbon capture and storage projects they describe as the key to their futures. Alas, they’re still holding out for another taxpayer subsidy — one that could be upwards of $50 billion.
Alex Pourbaix, the longtime CEO of Cenovus, just announced he was handing over the reins of his company so he could focus on pressuring provincial and federal governments for more money. "Next to safety, there is nothing more important to Cenovus and our industry than reaching a durable solution between government and industry to achieve our emission aspirations," he said. "Once I move to the executive chair position, I intend to dedicate even more time to this pivotal external issue for both Cenovus and our industry."
The federal government, which is expected to deliver its budget over the next few weeks, needs to brace itself here. The lobbying coming from Alberta will be intense, and the attempts to work the refs on this issue will put even the best hockey players to shame. You can be sure that Pierre Poilievre and his various digital petro-proxies will be more than happy to amplify those messages demanding even more financial support for an already hugely profitable industry.
But with the proposed carbon capture tax credit, the possibility of so-called “carbon contracts for difference” (insurance against the carbon tax being canceled, essentially) being included in the budget and the improved industrial carbon pricing structure that Alberta just agreed to (yes, agreed), Canada already has enough carrots and sticks in place to support investment. “We have these pieces,” says Jan Gorski, the director of the Pembina Institute’s oil and gas program. “We still need to get them over the finish line, but we have the right suite of tools.”
If you happen to work in sustainable development for Suncor, you might want to update your resume — or at the very least prepare for a change in your job description. Columnist @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver
The real question is whether the industry will ever actually use them.
For all of their ambitious talk about reducing emissions and getting to net zero, Canada’s biggest oil and gas companies have been conspicuously cautious about putting any real money to work on major emissions reductions projects, with some actively lobbying against regulations that would reduce emissions in the recent past. Instead, they’ve shovelled almost all of their growing pile of cash into the pockets of their shareholders.
That doesn’t sit well with Catherine McKenna, Canada’s former environment minister and the recent chair of an expert panel on net-zero commitments established by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. Net zero means “actually investing in the technology you say you need,” she told The Narwhal. “If you’re very serious about it, you would actually be making the investments right now while you have a lot of money.”
Once the federal budget is announced, we’ll find out once and for all whether the oil and gas industry is finally ready to put up or shut up when it comes to reducing its emissions.
But if the decision to bring someone like Rich Kruger out of retirement to run one of its biggest companies is any indication, all we’re likely to get is more talk — and more stalling.