Danielle Smith’s False and Misleading Statements at Global Energy Show

Alberta’s recently-elected premier made some contradictory claims about fossil fuel demand, ‘sustainable’ oil export, and ‘clean’ natural gas.
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the Global Energy Show in Calgary.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the Global Energy Show in Calgary. Photo by Chris Schwarz (Flickr CC)

Recently elected Alberta Premier Danielle Smith provided the lunch hour address on the first day of the 2023 Global Energy Show, held in Calgary on June 13. Smith was one of three representatives from her new government to make statements at the conference’s opening day, along with newly minted energy minister Brian Jean, and environment minister Rebecca Schulz. Smith was followed by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

In the roughly 15-minute prepared speech Smith made several misleading statements, in addition to taking a potshot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparent hostility to the fossil fuel sector. In fact, not even two weeks ago the Trudeau government announced $3 billion (CAD) in loan guarantees for the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which it bought in 2018. The pipeline brings Alberta crude oil and refined petroleum products to Canada’s West Coast.

Danielle Smith often provided contradictory messaging or phrases, such as “sustainable export of fossil fuel resources,” “clean natural gas,” and expressed her belief that Alberta could increase fossil fuel production while simultaneously cutting emissions. In a text message, a spokesperson for the premier said her office was “unavailable” for comment.

Smith further claimed Alberta had the world’s third largest oil reserves (according to a government website, it’s actually the fourth largest reserve), and that “output from our existing extraction facilities can be sustained for 100 years or longer [and] demand is forecast to accelerate over the medium term as business investment and consumer spending pick up.” 

These two statements — that Alberta’s oil output can continue for another century and that demand is forecasted to accelerate — is challenged by a recent policy brief by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), that finds Canada’s oil sector is vulnerable to declining global oil demand and falling oil prices. Rather than accelerating demand and a century’s worth of continued production, the IISD, citing the research of five other organizations including the International Energy Agency, found that demand will plummet after 2030. The researchers say it is highly unlikely Canada will sell the last barrel of oil, and the reasons for this fall entirely outside the policies of Canadian governments, efforts by Canada’s oil industry, or pressure tactics by environmentalists.

Smith and the other advocates of Alberta oil were consistent and confident throughout the discussions on the first day of the convention that Canada would have much of the global market cornered by 2050, apparently owing to Canada’s environmental and human rights records when compared with other major world oil producers. According to the aforementioned IISD policy paper, whether Canadian oil is considered to be ethical or produced at high ESG standards probably won’t matter at all as the industry contracts over the next three decades, particularly because, as the study states “when refined Canadian oil is finally sold at the pumps, it is indistinguishable from other gasoline, and tracking the source at the retail level would be daunting.”

This fact was probably already well understood by the audience of petroleum engineers and other industry insiders in attendance. 

Smith pressed on, stating that, by the 2050s, Alberta would be “producing its oil in efficient and environmentally sustainable ways,” from which she then pivoted to discussing carbon capture technology. First she insinuated that carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is a “new solution for emissions.” In fact CCUS is largely a rebranding effort for what was called “enhanced oil recovery” 50 years ago, when the technology was first commercialized. Smith alleged that carbon capture would allow Alberta to continue production while lowering emissions. This too is contradicted by a recent study by the IISD, and confirmed by DeSmog’s independent research, all of which concludes carbon capture in the oil and gas sector is “expensive, energy intensive, unproven at scale, and has no impact on the 80% of oil and gas emissions that result from downstream use.” Documents obtained by DeSmog reveal that, rather than being the principle tool used to reduce emissions, the oil and gas industry views carbon capture as the principle means to sustain more development.

Premier Smith stated that “Alberta is a global leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage technology on a commercial scale,” and that “more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 have been successfully stored underground for the Quest and Alberta trunk line projects.”

A groundbreaking study published by Global Witness last year revealed that Shell’s much hyped Quest CCUS project in Alberta only captured about half its carbon emissions, and that while it did capture 5 million tonnes of CO2 over a five year period, the same facility released 7.5 million tonnes of CO2. It is also worth considering that the Quest project is used to produce hydrogen that is then used to refine bitumen — however much CO2 it captures, it is still being used to produce more oil. 

Danielle Smith also stated that Alberta is a “fantastic source of clean and responsibly produced natural gas,” a statement in line with statements from this past spring where she advocated the province construct more gas-fired power plants owing to what she described as renewable sources’ “unreliability.” Aside from the fact that renewable energy power plants are completely reliable, Smith’s assertion that natural gas is either clean or responsibly produced contradicts considerable scientific evidence. While it is true that natural gas emits less carbon than coal or oil, it is a fossil fuel nonetheless, and natural gas emits more carbon than genuinely safe and clean energy sources like wind and solar. What Smith left out are the considerable methane emissions generated by natural gas extraction, as well as the considerable methane leaks from pipelines and wells. These leaks, and their devastating impact on the climate and efforts to achieve net zero, have been seriously underreported for years. A recent investigation by the Clean Air Task Force and The David Suzuki Foundation found methane escaping, both intentionally and unintentionally, from every single one of the 128 sites it examined over a six day period in 2022.

In her closing statement Premier Smith stated “we’re going to keep on fighting because logic and economics are on Alberta’s side.” Alberta can choose to reduce emissions or increase oil and gas production, but it cannot, despite Premier Smith’s beliefs, do both.

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Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian.

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