The Alberta government’s all-out effort to become America’s preferred provider of oil and gas will face a critical moment Tuesday as Premier Jason Kenney delivers his province’s sales pitch to some of the most prominent members of the U.S. Congress.
He’ll see some friendly faces, including Sen. Joe Manchin, the swing-vote West Virginia Democrat who has bonded with Kenney over the issue of North American energy security. Others might be less hospitable, like Vermont’s progressive standard-bearer Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Kenney is convinced he has common sense on his side.
“Alberta is by far the largest source of U.S. energy imports — 10 times more than Saudi Arabia, and five times more than all of OPEC combined. I doubt there’s 100 people in the United States who know that,” the premier said Tuesday in a meeting with Canadian journalists in D.C.
“It is deeply frustrating to us. We don’t even seem to show up on the radar screen when it comes to these discussions.”
That’s why the government has installed former Conservative MP James Rajotte at the Canadian Embassy as Alberta’s U.S. emissary. It is also opening new offices this summer in Denver, Chicago and Seattle and has a slick new US$6-million ad campaign based on the tag line “Look North.”
It’s also why the likes of Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Environment Minister Jason Nixon will be racking up frequent-flyer miles to convince a gridlocked Capitol Hill and seemingly indifferent White House of the energy security solution Kenney believes is staring them in the face.
“I think you can expect to see an Alberta delegation of ministers down here in Washington at least every other month,” he said.
“I was here two months ago, they’re going to be here one month from now — we’re going to be really picking up the tempo of our presence here.”
The hearing, to explore the “energy and minerals” partnership between Canada and the U.S., will also feature virtual testimony from Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, as well as Nathalie Camden, Quebec’s deputy minister of mines, and Electricity Canada president Francis Bradley.
Wilkinson said Monday he expects senators will hear a unified message about the vital role Canada can and should play in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of North American energy.
And it will be in that spirit he will remind the committee of the importance of Line 5, a key energy artery between Alberta and Michigan that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is actively trying to shut down out of fear of an ecological disaster in the Great Lakes.
“Part of what I will be saying to the committee on Line 5 is, ‘Let’s not actually take steps backwards,”’ Wilkinson said in an interview.
“This is an important part of North American energy security. Yes, it’s important for Canada, but there are American states that also get products off this line. So let’s declare that we need to be moving forward.”
The rare spectacle of a premier at a Senate committee comes at the invitation of chairman Manchin, a household name in Washington these days as a critical — and notoriously unreliable — swing vote for Democrats and President Joe Biden in the evenly divided Senate.
Manchin, who has made no secret of his concerns about rampant inflation in the U.S. as well as soaring energy prices, paid a high-profile visit to Alberta last month, where his message seemed torn directly from Kenney’s United Conservative songbook.
Biden, Manchin said, made a grievous error when he cancelled the presidential permits for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. It would have ultimately added 800,000 barrels a day of capacity to Alberta’s ability to export oilsands bitumen to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
“The Keystone XL pipeline is something we should have never abandoned. Now we wish we hadn’t,” Manchin said during his visit.
Republicans, mindful of midterm elections this November that are widely expected to deliver a sharp comeuppance to Democrats in Congress and in several key statehouses, have also taken to blaming that decision for a dramatic spike in gas prices.
The truth is more complicated: inflationary pressure from a pandemic spending spree, lingering supply chain issues, a shortage of domestic oil and gas production, soaring demand and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have all played an outsized role.
Nor would Keystone XL have been completed and operational in time to make a difference, experts say. Even if it was, it would not likely have resulted in enough of a production increase to make much of a dent. Even the project’s original architect, Calgary-based TC Energy Corp., has written it off.
So why keep talking about it?
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Kenney, acknowledging in the same breath that the original expansion project is well and truly “dead.” The private sector, he said, will never put billions in capital on the line considering the political and regulatory climate surrounding pipelines.
But the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between Edmonton and the B.C. coast faced the same uncertainty until the federal government “de-risked it” by buying it outright, Kenney said, predicting it would be fully operational in another 15 months, creating capacity for an additional 600,000 barrels a day.
“If the U.S. is serious about this energy problem, all I’m saying is, we’ve got the supply. We just need more infrastructure,” he said.
What’s more, Keystone XL taught the industry in general and TC Energy in particular some valuable lessons, Kenney added. That included the importance of using U.S. steel, engaging more closely with Indigenous stakeholders and taking more seriously the concerns of climate activists and protesters about the potential impact of greater oilsands production.
“All of those issues became irritants. I think we could learn from the mistakes of the last 10 years and figure out how to do this in a more intelligent way,” he said.
“But ultimately, if you want the energy, somebody’s got to build the infrastructure.”