Calgary

Oilsands CEOs take federal election message to voters in full-page newspaper ads

Three of Canada's biggest oilsands producers are going directly to voters to ask them to "influence the outcome" of big decisions concerning the oil and gas sector as a fall federal election looms.

'It's not the governments that need to change, it's the message the people ... send to those governments'

In a message to Canadian voters published in 30 daily newspapers on Aug. 1, three of the biggest oilsands companies note that oil and gas producers are the country's single largest investors in clean energy technology. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Three of Canada's biggest oilsands producers are going directly to voters to ask them to "influence the outcome" of big decisions concerning the oil and gas sector as a fall federal election looms.

In full-page ads in about 30 English and French daily newspapers across Canada on Thursday, the CEOs of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc. and MEG Energy Corp. ask readers to call on "leaders of all political stripes" to lend their support to the energy industry.

MEG Energy CEO Derek Evans says the campaign, a rare foray into the public realm for companies that usually prefer to speak through the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, is coming out in mid-summer because that's when politicians are meeting voters at barbecues and picnics.

The open letter agrees greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced but it defends the environmental record of the oilsands, contending that emissions intensity per barrel produced has fallen by about 30 per cent over the past two decades.

Alex Pourbaix, the CEO of Calgary-based Cenovus Energy, says the letter is part of a new strategy by the energy industry to reclaim the public narrative that has been taken over by its opponents. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The letter says Canada's energy companies produce a product that continues to be needed despite the growth of renewable energy, adding that oil and gas producers are the country's single largest investors in clean energy technology.

Evans says the campaign is not partisan and he, for one, won't be unhappy if the Liberals are re-elected, despite their recent adoption — against the advice of the oilpatch — of Bill C-69 to revamp the way energy projects are approved and C-48 to ban oil tanker traffic along B.C.'s northern coast.

"It's not the governments that need to change, it's the message the people of the country send to those governments," he said.

"I'm fine with having Justin Trudeau as prime minister if he embraces a philosophy with respect to energy that says that Canada has a much larger role to play on the global stage and we need to encourage that part of our sector."

The three companies who signed the letter all market at least part of their oil in the form of non-upgraded bitumen.

Notable for their absence are Suncor Energy Inc., Canada's largest oil and gas company by market capitalization, along with Imperial Oil Ltd. and Husky Energy Inc., all of which have refining and retail sales arms as well as oilsands operations.

Those companies are aware the letter exists and support its general goals but have chosen different ways to communicate, said Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix in an interview.

Part of a new strategy

He said the letter forms part of a new strategy by the industry to reclaim the public narrative that has been taken over by its opponents.

"As we head into the upcoming election, we are asking you to join us in urging Canada's leaders of all political stripes to help our country thrive by supporting an innovative energy industry," reads the letter.

"One that can contribute to solving the global climate change challenge and play a significant role in creating future energy solutions by developing our resources in the cleanest most responsible way possible today."

The Canadian oil industry centred in Calgary has long complained of federal policies that make it difficult to build pipelines and other projects, arguing those factors have scared away investors that supply the capital needed to keep the industry growing.

The letter is being published a day after the Petroleum Services Association of Canada cut its drilling forecast for a second time this year, to 5,100 wells from 5,300 in its May revision.

Its first forecast in January called for 5,600 wells this year, down from an actual 6,948 wells drilled in 2018.

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