In the course of one day last month, three separate news articles appeared in the Edmonton Journal (2) and The Globe and Mail, that had the capacity to mislead or mis-state certain facts about developments in Alberta’s energy sector. The headline “Oil sands firms face stringent emissions caps” was published on 16 June. Written by Kelly Cryderman and Jeff Lewis, the use of the words “stringent emissions caps” seemed a stretch headline. Oilsands firms face stringent emissions caps16-6-17 GM
According to the article, at current levels of production, the oil sands emit 70 megatonnes a year. The cap is 100 megatonnes leaving room for 30 megatonnes or 43 per cent more room to grow. This hardly seems stringent, particularly if companies continue to improve their emissions efficiency which the Alberta climate change plan is attempting to encourage. The real issue for oil sands’ production is not a carbon cap but whether current and future production is economic and whether there will be a) markets for increased production, and b) there exists an economic means to ship the bitumen.
The same day, the Edmonton Journal published a comment piece by Claudia Cattaneo entitled “Burden on Oilsands grows as panel sets strict carbon diet.” The article described the 100 megatonne limit as a “punishing diet” which will lead “many operators” to cash out and flock to “competing jurisdictions with more attractive political, regulatory and economic conditions.” Burden on oilsands grows as panel sets strict carbon diet17-6-17 EJ Once again the choice of words “burden” and “strict diet” are hardy consistent with the reality that Alberta’s Premier has been one of the oil industry’s fiercest protectors and advocates.
On another page of the Journal that day, “Oilsands production expected to dip: report,” was published. The actual content reporter Geoffrey Morgan’s belied the headline. In the article, Morgan cites an IHS report which states “nearly half-million barrels per day of new oil sands production will be added in 2017-18.” Further the article noted that current production will rise from 2.7 million to 3.6 million bpd by 2026. Hardly a “dip.” The confusion seems to be that the rate of growth is decreasing, not the actual level. Oilsands production expected to dip-report16-6-127 EJ
Energy reporting in Canada and especially in Alberta is a tough business. As the dominant business in the province, the industry employs competent communications and government relations specialists who ensure the industry’s message is conveyed to the Alberta and Canadian publics. The editorial power to use headlines to frame complex policy issues is indeed a real power that goes with a responsibility to be objective and neutral as possible without being boring.