Albertans say they aren't afraid of transitioning away from oil

Albertans might not be ready to say goodbye to oil, but most are ready for a future with less of it, a new poll indicates.

Poll shows Albertans think oil is king but don't want to hang province's future on it

New poll data from Janet Brown Opinion Research indicates most Albertans are ready for a future with less oil and gas. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in mid-October, starting six days after Danielle Smith won the leadership of the United Conservative Party.

As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time. 

This analysis is one in a series of articles to come out of this research. 

The "energy transition" is often a toxic term in the province's politics, but Albertans are now looking at that transformation in a different light. 

They might not be ready to say goodbye to oil, but new poll data from Janet Brown Opinion Research indicates most are ready for a future with less of it. 

They're also concerned about the consequences of climate change, the survey commissioned by CBC News suggests. 

Twelve per cent of respondents listed oil and gas as one of the top issues in the October survey. It's a sharp decline from 2018, when that number was 40 per cent, and the province was recovering from a crash in both oil prices and jobs in the sector.

Now, oil and gas companies are recording their most lucrative year ever, and the provincial government is raking in the royalties. 

The resource roller-coaster

It's a dizzying reversal of fortunes. In the early months of COVID, oil prices had dropped below $0 per barrel. Revenue from non-renewable sources is now forecast to be $28.4 billion by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year compared with $5.4 billion four years earlier.

But ask any politician about the province's largest industry and you can quickly cross off the cliché bingo square for "getting off the natural resource roller-coaster." 

Albertans are wary of that whiplash, too. 

According to the poll, 59 per cent of respondents said they thought transitioning away from oil and gas would benefit Alberta's economy in the long term. 

But it's more complex than just turning off the taps. Sixty per cent said oil and gas will still be Alberta's most important industry 25 years from now. Those results are largely unchanged from four years ago. 

While Albertans think oil will continue to lead Alberta's economy, they're also concerned about the impact the industry has on the environment. The majority of survey respondents — 62 per cent — said they thought more should be done to address climate change. 

"Not so long ago, when it came to energy and the environment, it was kind of a binary thing," said Janet Brown, who conducted the research. 

"Now it seems like Alberta's evolving into a place where you can still value the oil and gas industry, you can still root for its success. But at the same time, you can also be pro-environment, and you can see the need for the oil and gas industry to be transitioning and to be doing things differently."

Nine per cent of people mentioned environmental issues as one of their top concerns in this year's survey. The results in 2018 were identical.  

Shifting city 

Calgary, the oil and gas headquarters city that will likely decide who wins next spring's election, is starting to resemble Edmonton on energy and climate more than the smaller cities and rural communities of Alberta. 

"It looks like Calgary's moving into this sort of more centrist, progressive point of view. Less climate change denial, more interest in finding solutions for how to make Alberta an energy leader when it comes to transition," Brown said. 

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. in April 2015. Most Albertans still think oil is king, but they don't want to hang the province's future on it, a recent poll says. (Alexander Panetta/The Canadian Press)

The idea that transitioning Alberta's economy away from fossil fuels could be a good thing resonated with 64 per cent of Calgary respondents, 62 per cent of the Edmontonians and 50 per cent of those in the rest of the province. 

Sixty per cent of Calgarians in the survey said oil will still be the top economic contributor in 25 years. That's slightly closer to perspective in Edmonton (54 per cent) than in the rest of Alberta (68 per cent). 

Plans and targets 

The federal government has set aggressive emissions reduction targets for the oil and gas sector — reducing pollution by 42 per cent below 2019 levels by the year 2030. Alberta's government has called that number unrealistic. Industry, while on board with emissions reduction, has also grimaced at the feasibility of that goal.

Alberta has a five-member delegation this week at COP27, the United Nations climate change summit, alongside officials from oil and gas companies and environmental groups. Under Jason Kenney, the provincial government skipped last year's conference. 

Premier Danielle Smith hasn't unveiled specific plans for environmental and energy policy. Her new energy minister has been tasked with expanding Alberta's hydrogen plans and supporting the oil and gas industry's plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

She's also asked for a new "made-in-Alberta" strategy for emissions reductions. But it's not clear if she supports a transition away from oil and gas, per se. 

"We still need to do more to understand what the future looks like for an Alberta that is less dependent on oil and gas and does have an economy that is more diversified," said Sara Hastings-Simon, the director of the University of Calgary's sustainable energy development program.

"There might be a future that is both more sustainable from an environmental perspective but also more sustainable and steady from an economic perspective."

Oil rules Alberta's economy, but the people of the province are unenthusiastic about building a future around fickle booms and busts. 

The CBC News random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between Oct. 12 and 30, 2022, by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative of regional, age and gender factors. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.

The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, consisting of half landlines and half cellphone numbers. Telephone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of day before another telephone number was added to the sample. The response rate among valid numbers (i.e. residential and personal) was 16.3 per cent.


Elise von Scheel is a provincial affairs reporter with CBC Calgary and the producer of the West of Centre podcast. You can get in touch with her at