CALGARY – The recent shift to the left in Alberta politics could end up being more of a help than a hindrance when it comes to breaking the pipeline logjam, according to some observers.
Past premiers under Progressive Conservative governments expended a great deal of time and energy pushing for improved market access for Alberta crude.
Though incoming NDP premier Rachel Notley has said she doesn’t oppose pipeline construction, during the campaign she signalled a more hands-off approach to promoting some of those projects.
Gone are the days of regular sales pitches south of the border for Keystone XL, for instance. She’s also said she wouldn’t fight for Northern Gateway. But she’s spoken more positively about other proposals like the cross-Canada Energy East project and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, while at the same time urging more oilsands processing within Alberta.
Warren Mabee, an energy and environmental policy expert at Queen’s University, said the pressure from past premiers on Keystone XL “probably hasn’t been all that helpful.”
If anything, stronger environmental regulations and tougher greenhouse gas rules that may be introduced under an NDP government could actually help the industry, he said.
“I think that one thing that might help with Keystone XL and might help Barack Obama make a case for it in his own head, would be if Alberta was really moving ahead aggressively to reduce emissions and to address the footprint that’s associated with the oilsands,” he said.
“Because really, that’s a large reason why that project has stalled out.”
Trevor McLeod, director of the Centre for Natural Resources Policy at the Canada West Foundation, said he’s optimistic the NDP government could help build public support for pipelines that has been sorely lacking – provided it strikes the right balance.
“There’s so much policy meat that needs to go on the bones, that you can go in so many different directions,” he said.
“It’s just really a matter of how they execute. If they do it thoughtfully and in a measured way, then I think there’s real benefit there, possibly real benefit to the energy industry, to Alberta.”
Alan Ross, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais in Calgary who works with energy sector clients, said following the initial surprise of the NDP’s election win, many in the industry are taking heart in Notley’s comments so far.
On her first day on the job, Notley reached out to the energy industry, assuring leaders that her government would work collaboratively with them and that things would be “A-OK over here in Alberta.”
“Her indicated support for the Energy East and Trans Mountain projects suggests a knowledge of, an understanding of, the Alberta energy industry and a moderate approach,” said Ross.
Any action on climate change, especially if taken in concert with other provinces, may “make it more difficult to hold up Alberta as the bogeyman of Canadian confederation,” he said.
“To the extent an approach on pipelines could be augmented by a climate change policy that works for both industry and governmental interests, it may well cast Alberta in a more favourable light with respect to potential pipeline development, even up to an including Keystone XL.”