New coalition seeks to create a compelling LNG narrative for Canada

Image: JWN

The bold assertion: Canada's oil and gas industry long ago lost control over the opposing narrative forces that have shaped the worldview of its oilsands sector. Sadly, that worldview includes much of Canada.

The consequence of such narrative loss: a sector constantly reacting to competing narratives expertly controlled by outside forces much more proficient at storytelling than we have been.

The resulting context: Canada's global reputation as a clean and conscientious energy producer is imperilled – and the consumer brand and trust value of millions in oilsands-focused tech innovation investment toward cleaner and greener barrels is lost.

The sad reality: many great stories that should've been told haven't been communicated and their value in constructively shaping perspectives and dialogues will never be recovered – nor will the economic aspects of lost narrative control – particularly narratives to which provincial and federal politicians pay attention.

But from the once-bitten-twice-shy-department: an opportunity to not mishandle the positive effects of the largest infrastructure investment in Canadian history and its effect on the re-genesis of Canada's natural gas economy. This includes defining Canada’s place in a global industry rapidly shifting toward gas as a transition fuel within international climate contexts.

The final investment decision in late 2018 by the LNG Canada consortium means more to the Canadian energy economy than one significant project on Canada's west coast – even if it does represent a project of substantial singular scale.

Indeed, LNG Canada is not the lone player on Canada's steadily solidifying LNG landscape, which also includes intriguing east coast potential through, among others, Pieridae Energy’s proposed project at Goldboro, NS.

“Now, as the LNG tide rises, a group of key industry organizations and companies is coalescing around a next-generation coalition to ensure this new LNG economy doesn't fall prey to the well-organized external forces capable of crippling a sector that is unprepared to coordinate a connected campaign on many fronts,” said Bill Whitelaw, CEO of JWN Energy.

“This group will also ensure the interests of labour and the trades are at the table.”

JWN, along with the Resource Works Society, the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR) and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI), has been laying the groundwork for an alliance of like-minded companies and organizations to ensure each is connected to others in a network of common interests capable of constructively and proactively responding to opposition movements.

Among the group’s objectives: Advocating for a truly global accounting of the climate benefits of LNG – which presents a major challenge because localized GHG counting strategies have not kept up with the pace of change.

"The stakes are too high to move into a rejuvenation of the Canadian natural gas sector without coordination and alignment. As a sector, we must be prepared to anticipate opposition and have a coordinated plan to deal with it," noted Whitelaw.

"Past approaches to build compelling narratives have clearly not worked...and largely because they've taken a more fragmented approach, without the right alignment between key organizations."

The group is hosting a planning and information session Jan. 15 in Calgary to gauge interest. So far, representatives of nearly two dozen organizations have indicated they plan to attend.

The agenda will include a variety of updates and presentations but its key focus will be an open planning session during which participants will frame a preliminary roadmap, noted CGAI president Kelly Ogle.

"Our goal is to first identify all the players, from companies to communities, and explore whether or not there is a collective will to form an alliance that will focus on getting the narratives right,” noted Ogle.

“It’s clear from the response to our invitation; we are on to something in terms of coordinating all these interests.”

A key CGAI objective is to ensure the policy dimensions of an LNG economy are fully aired. To that end, the Institute plans a 12-part series of peer-reviewed papers early in 2019 that will examine Canada’s role in a global LNG economy, with a particular focus on key policy choices that must be made to ensure LNG Canada and other projects deliver on their potential, noted Ogle.

For CSUR, a “connected narrative” also means ensuring the technology dimensions of how natural gas is extracted are foregrounded, noted CSUR president Dan Allan.

The Montney is one of the world’s most prolific unconventional resource plays and the role it plays in the LNG economy also warrants attention and discussion, he added.

“We have some of the best drilling and completion processes in the world being deployed by Montney operators...showcasing those innovative operational strategies will help underscore Canada’s capabilities of being a global player with a sound environmental track record.”

For Resource Works executive director Stewart Muir, the on-the-ground community context is critical to build the grassroots foundation on which a connected narrative maintains its own positive momentum.

“From First Nations communities to local economies, there are many voices with important things to say in how best to manage the opportunities associated with major projects that are happening against a backdrop of significant social and policy shifts,” he noted.

“We need to ensure we create a connected communications process by which these voices are aligned with each other and not working in isolation.”

The challenge for the diverse interests will be to land on a communications process that permits them to coordinate with each other when appropriate, while pursuing their own strategies – and at the same time, anticipating and dealing with opposition forces that tend to be more proficient at creating distracting narratives, said Whitelaw.

Perhaps the idea of orienting toward a collective brand will be part of the solution, he noted, as well as the concept of a network geared toward “early detection” of competing narratives.

“Canada’s oilsands experience offers many lessons from which we can learn about how to be more proactive and better at anticipating where opposition comes from in terms of creeping in through the cracks in our foundation,” he added.

For more information, please contact Whitelaw at bwhitelaw@jwnenergy.com.