National debates are for everyone

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

A recent study lays the blame for the lack of success of shale gas in Quebec at industry’s home page. A Canadian Press article more or less agrees. While the study makes many good points it completely misses this one:  it avoided mentioning that others avoided getting involved and informing the public on what was a provincial debate on energy policy.  A point I recently made in my blog ‘Why no video?‘.

The studies key conclusions are:

  • Not all companies communicate the same
  • The industry association didn’t make its voluntary guidelines; compulsory
  • Of 26 oil and gas companies that have an exploration license in Quebec only 5 or 19% are transparent (But only 7 active companies have drilled a well in Quebec actually making 71% transparent)
  • Questerre is one of the transparent companies and communicates well. (I have to agree making the study well worth the cost, in my opinion)
  • Only 30% of companies used cement for their wells (I know for sure 100% did)

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the study correctly concludes that industry generally could do a better job of communicating.  I said so for free in my blog ‘Why we suck at PR’, a year and a half ago.

However, there is a little bit more to the issue.

In 2010 the BP Oil Spill abruptly focused the public on the risks of offshore oil drilling. Shortly afterwards we found the Utica was the local interest angle, of a worldwide story.  This led to an availability cascade.  To address growing public fears, the Government asked us to explain our industry in public meetings.  The Government didn’t have a lot of oil and gas experience and our industry didn’t have a lot of political experience, so we unwisely complied.

By then shale gas had become about hydrocarbons’ place in Quebec’s energy diet.  So Alberta oil and gas companies unwittingly took the yes side of a debate on Quebec’s energy policy.  On the no side were artists and activists with the rallying cry ‘it’s our land’.

It’s hard to imagine, even if the industry association could make compulsory guidelines, it would have had much impact.  Imagine if Quebec artists and activists had come to Alberta to say no in a provincial debate on oil sands policy (OK bad example – but you get my point).

A provincial debate on energy policy in Quebec must be had by Quebecers.  Industry’s role is to offer facts, expertise and a point of view.

Individual companies and their industry associations should be responsible to gain social acceptability for projects.  They can’t be expected to take on public policy debates single handed.