Imagining Northern BC Without Oil and Gas

Tyee readers asked us to report on how to transition to a green economy without lost jobs. Here are some answers for one region.

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The northern BC economy is heavily steeped in oil and gas jobs. But programs like the University of Northern British Columbia’s Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design program are training workers for a new economy. Photo courtesy of UNBC.

Last month’s massive marches to demand action on climate change showed the issue has become central to this election campaign.

But when we asked Tyee readers to guide our election coverage, they wanted to know how the parties would transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval.

It’s a critical question, especially for British Columbia’s north. As one of the fastest-warming regions in the country, it’s already feeling the impact of the climate crisis.

And with its reliance on resource industries — especially oil and gas development in the northeast, pipelines that carry products to the coast, and coming liquefied natural gas plants — it would be most dramatically affected by a transition away from fossil fuels.

That’s not the only impact. Traditional industries like fisheries and forestry are currently struggling and face an uncertain future, in part due to a warming climate.

What will the transition mean for the north?

The shift to a low-carbon economy has traditionally been touted as a choice between jobs and environment. But there’s a growing awareness that the outlook might not be so bleak. Exciting opportunities exist, not only in a post-carbon world, but in the journey to get there.

In August, Forbes touted the shift as “the single biggest business opportunity in human history.”

Experts interviewed by The Tyee about the transition to a post-carbon economy tended to make three points: It’s possible. It likely won’t be comfortable. And it’s going to take a lot of political will.

Marc Lee, senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says how easily we transition depends on how quickly we begin to move quickly to slash emissions.

“If you’re trying to get to zero next year, it’s going to be disruptive,” he says. “If you have two to three decades as the period to manage that transition, then it shouldn’t be a problem.” A 30-year transition — with steady progress during that period — puts us in line with current predictions for avoiding catastrophic climate change, he added.

Christopher Flury is a Fort St. John-based engineer and president of the local chamber of commerce. His income is entirely based on the natural gas industry.

“It’s a major portion of our GDP,” he says, estimating that up to 75 per cent of the local economy relies directly or indirectly on oil and gas.

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A worker at a natural gas well near Fort Nelson, BC. The province has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. Photo by Larry McDougal, the Canadian Press.

The region is seeing an increase in renewable energy projects, with eight wind projects currently proposed, he notes.

“I think a good mix between oil and gas and renewables is how things are going to transition in northeast B.C.,” he says. “If we transition away and completely shut down the industry, I’d say there are over 350 operators just in Fort St. John that would lose their jobs.”

B.C. has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. In addition, last year there were 39,000 oil and gas jobs in engineering and infrastructure building.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, represents many of those workers.

‘Job intensive:’ Study says clean energy fast track to employment growth


Some of the 30,000 solar panels that make up the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s new 2-megawatt photovoltaic array in Albuquerque, N.M. on April 20, 2011. File photo by The Associated Press/Susan Montoya Bryan

New research says job growth from clean energy will dramatically outpace that from fossil fuels over the next decade — as long as future Canadian governments maintain or increase attempts to fight climate change.

“The clean-energy sector is a good-news story that no one’s talking about,” said Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “There is nothing to fear about moving forward on climate action.”

Earlier this year, the group released research that found Canada’s clean-energy sector — which encompasses renewable energy and energy conservation — had already produced 300,000 jobs by 2017.

Further study made public Wednesday projects job growth in the sector to significantly outperform most other parts of the economy.

Using recognized economic modelling tools, it suggests that direct jobs from clean energy will grow at a rate of 3.4 per cent a year between 2020 and 2030. That’s nearly four times the Canadian average.

The same models suggest fossil fuel industries will slowly lose jobs over that time.

Smith said the data shows clean energy employment could reach nearly 560,000 by the end of the next decade. That’s 160,000 new jobs, more than enough to make up for the 50,000 jobs which fossil fuels are expected to shed.

The study also forecasts money flowing into clean energy will grow 2.9 per cent a year. Fossil fuel investment is expected to shrink.

Fossil fuels will be bigger than clean energy for years to come. But what the research shows, Smith said, is that new jobs and growth will come from the latter.

“The fast lane is clean energy,” she said. “This is where we’re seeing job growth.”

Her conclusions are in broad agreement with others in the field.

“Deep decarbonization will be job intensive,” said Mark Jaccard, an energy economist at Simon Fraser University.

Fossil fuel alternatives require more labour, he said.

Kent Fellows of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy agreed. He said studies in British Columbia, which has had a carbon tax for more than a decade, suggest climate measures didn’t cost jobs and may have added some.

“They show that either you’re pretty stable or maybe you’ve got a little bit of an increase in employment,” he said. “The fears of losing jobs everywhere are probably misguided.”

The British group Carbon Tracker has found that while solar and wind provide only three per cent of global energy, they account for one-quarter of all new generation. And few of the world’s cars are electric, but they make up 22 per cent of sales growth.

Automation is removing jobs from the oilpatch. Between 2014 and 2016, Alberta’s production grew by nearly 10 per cent but 39,000 fewer people were employed.

Smith points out the modelling assumes that Canadian climate measures either stay in place or are increased — an assumption which the current federal election campaign has thrown in doubt.

“We’ve got three parties that are not only committing to keep these policies but build on them,” Smith said. MORE

After oil and gas: Meet Alberta workers making the switch to solar

Alberta’s oil and gas workers can be underrepresented — or even maligned — in conversations about an energy transition in Canada. The Narwhal met with three former oil and gas workers to learn more about their lives and personal reasons for transitioning to solar

Brandon Sandmaier solar Generate Energy

The oil and gas industry has long been a mainstay for young people — especially men — looking for work in Alberta, and Dustin Taylor was one of them.

Taylor was born in Nova Scotia, where his dad worked on an offshore oil rig. He moved to Alberta as a kid, and found himself in yet another province heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry.

“I left school before I graduated and pretty much started working right off the hop,” he said. “And, like most people in Alberta, I ended up working in the energy industry — working in oil and gas, making decent money.”

He started working in oil and gas when he was 16, without finishing high school.

At his first job, he made $60,000 a year. In the years that followed, he made a lot of money. He partied. He didn’t vote. He didn’t care much about politics.

Something started to change for Taylor as the years went on in the oil patch. He remembers the 2010 BP oil spill as a pivotal moment in his thinking.

“It was plastered all over the news for days, and I watched this giant catastrophe just unfold in front of our eyes for days on end,” he said.

It was, he remembers, “a heartbreaking moment.”

Fast-forward several years, and Taylor is one of thousands of solar workers in Alberta — and one of many who has transitioned out of the fossil fuel sector into renewable energy.

Taylor is one of the workers The Narwhal came across when we started asking questions about the fledgling idea of an energy transition in Alberta. We wanted to know how switching careers, and industries, has impacted workers’ lives.

Switching careers comes with challenges, such as reduced pay, learning new skills or possible relocation. Labour advocates are adamant that governments need to be planning for an energy transition — and the implications it holds for thousands of workers in the province.

“We need to ensure that the pace of our sustainable energy development is on track to meet climate targets and help ensure the world can reach net zero by 2050,” Lliam Hildebrand of Iron & Earth, an oilsands-worker led group pushing for retraining in renewables, told The Narwhal. “We’re not on track for that right now.”

“If we were, there would be a lot more jobs.” MORE

Why a ‘just transition’ doesn’t have to pit jobs against the environment

Many labour groups support Paris targets, global climate strikes


A study by Clean Energy Canada found that the clean-energy sector was growing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

One of the recurring themes among some politicians and business leaders is that climate change presents a binary choice between preserving jobs or the environment.

But that’s not the way Dwaine MacDonald sees it. MacDonald is one of the co-founders of Trinity Energy Group, a company based in Stellarton, N.S., that makes commercial and residential buildings more energy-efficient, through better insulation and thermal barriers. And business is very good.

To give a sense of Trinity’s expertise, in 2010, the company worked on a 14-bedroom farmhouse that every year required 14 cords of wood and two barrels of oil for their heating needs. Trinity’s retrofit brought it down to four cords of wood and half a barrel of oil.


Dwaine MacDonald established Trinity Energy Group in 2006, and the business has grown to 80 employees since then. (Submitted by Shelby MacDonald)

This example shows why the International Energy Agency has identified energy efficiency as one of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions. It also shows why a concerted transition to a low-carbon economy can be beneficial to both the environment and blue-collar and unionized workers, including those in the fossil fuel industry.

Since MacDonald and his partners launched the company in 2006, Trinity has grown to 80 full-time employees — and he estimates that about a quarter of them are people who were let go from, or simply left, jobs in the Alberta oilsands.

“I could be hiring more people if I could keep up with the demand,” said MacDonald. “It’s slowing us down right now, just trying to find the right people.”

As a sign of labour’s stake in the environmental challenge, Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada, voted to join the global climate strikes scheduled to take place across the country and around the world, on Sept. 20 and Sept. 27.

Major unions in France, Germany and Italy have also announced their intent to join the climate strikers.

Changing tone

The working class is increasingly on-side with climate action, said Jamie Kirkpatrick, program manager at Blue Green Canada, an organization that advocates for workers and the environment, and is aligned with Unifor and the United Steelworkers.

But Kirkpatrick acknowledges there is “fear and concern” among some workers about what a transition to a low-carbon economy means for them. Part of that has to do with the sometimes abrasive tone of climate activists.


Trinity’s specialty is making homes and businesses more energy efficient, which the International Energy Agency has identified as one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions. (Submitted by Shelby MacDonald)

“I think a lot of environmental efforts were focused on ‘shut this thing down,’ ‘phase this out,’ ‘get rid of that dirty, nasty industry,'” said Kirkpatrick. “And I think we’ve learned a lot about how everybody involved is a human being, and we could talk about [a transition] in a more human way.”

You can see that more measured tone in the messaging of the federal Green Party, for example. The party’s platform includes halting federal subsidies to the oil sector and cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project as part of a larger effort to drastically reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has stressed “we are not at war with fossil fuel workers. We are not at all willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”

Kirkpatrick said his organization strives to “make the connections, and make it true that you can have a good job and a healthy environment.” SOURCE

 

Letter: When will Ontario end the Nuclear Energy fiasco?

OPG’s Pickering Nuclear to operate until 2024

Premier Ford, Ministers Rickford & Smith,

The entire world is realizing what an economic and environmental disaster that Nuclear energy has become and are turning away from it towards renewable energy sources from the sun, wind , geothermal and tides/waves.

Tell me how you can justify your ongoing and increasing support for this outdated relic of 20th century technology , nuclear, while destroying our 21st century technologies for clean electricity generation? You are on a course that will set our province back in time and cause economic ruin.

You have 3 years remaining in your term to correct this mistaken strategy by completing the White Pines windfarm to as it should have been, restoring the progress that was being made with renewable energy projects, jobs & industries, and moving us forwards rather than backwards.

We will be holding you and your party accountable for your actions and inactions from now until the next election in 2022. Please read this following report. Thank you.

Don  & Heather Ross  Milford, Ont

Nuclear power ‘seven decades of economic ruin’, says new report

RELATED:

No Nukes News, July 9, 2019

Can the climate justice movement ground the fighter jets celebrated at air shows?

CF-18 flyover in Toronto. Photo: synestheticstrings/Wikimedia Commons

It’s air show season again.

A number of them are coming up soon: the Abbotsford International Airshow August 9 to 11; the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto August 31 to September 2; the Aero Gatineau-Ottawa Air Show September 6 to 8; and the Peterborough Air Show September 21 to 22.

All of them feature military aircraft.

Notably, the CBC reports, “The U.S. Air Force F-35 demonstration team will visit Ottawa in September on the eve of this fall’s federal election — just as the competition to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s starts heating up.”

“The stealth fighter is one of four warplanes in the $19-billion contest, which was formally launched with a request for proposals by the Liberal government on July 23,” the article adds.

The $19 billion that is to be spent on 88 jet fighters that burn copious amounts of fuel each second they are in flight is another waste of billions of dollars on top of the $4.5 billion spent on purchasing the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline (and the billions more it will take to expand that pipeline).

The Leap Manifesto calls for “cuts to military spending.”

The U.K.-based Campaign Against Arms Trade has an “arms to renewables” campaign that says money now spent on subsidizing the arms industry would be better spent on renewables and that in turn would be better for workers, the economy and world peace.

And Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, has argued that a Green New Deal needs to fight U.S. militarism. She cautions, “Wars and the military render impossible the aspirations contained in the Green New Deal.”

People have protested against air shows as a symbol of militarism for years.

In September 2010, a Toronto Star headline read: Protesters want “outdated” air show grounded. That article noted the critique of the “antiquated event” highlighted that the air show “pollutes the environment, disturbs residents and promotes symbols of militarism.”

In a 2016 opinion piece in the same newspaper, Craig Damian Smith commented, “in a city with a large population of refugee newcomers and people who have experienced the trauma of war it is insulting, invasive, and violent.”

“In Toronto, people affected by war are not an insignificant minority. This includes newcomers who aren’t refugees, Canadians, and family members struggling with inter-generational trauma,” he wrote.

It is my hope that Extinction Rebellion, Our Time, Fridays for Future and other climate justice groups will also see the need to challenge air shows as relics that serve to promote the militarism that accelerates climate breakdown and misdirects public funds away from the priority of building a green economy. MORE

Alberta Can Transition from Oil and Gas and Have a Strong Economy. Here’s How

‘Tens of thousands’ of people would be put to work immediately in high-skill jobs, say advocates.

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Lliam Hildebrand: Alberta’s workers need to escape the oil boom-and-bust cycle. Renewable energy can help. Photo from Iron & Earth.

What will a transition away from oil and gas mean for workers in Alberta?

Perhaps greater job security than in the boom and bust heydays of the oilsands, comparable wages and less time apart from family.

This is not a utopian pipe dream. Over the past month The Tyee spoke with experts across the province and the country who said Albertans have the skills and desire to build the sustainable energy system necessary to address our climate emergency.

“A lot of the people that support the pipeline are also very pro-renewable energy,” said Lliam Hildebrand, who spent years working in the oilsands and now runs a group called Iron & Earth that advocates for policies connecting oil workers to the millions of jobs required to build a low-carbon economy in Canada.

Decades of employment for laid-off Albertans could be unlocked by our political leaders in a matter of days.