Oil and gas experts have an important role in setting out a realistic energy future

Christina Lake SAGD project. Image: Cenovus

Intolerance for the development and use of hydrocarbons is one of the defining factors of the current time. Much of this is channeled through pressures on industry and government to adopt climate-related policies making it ever more difficult to work with the most reliable and abundant energy solutions available to us — hydrocarbons.

Who would not agree that ceaselessly improving our energy systems and thinking is a necessity? I haven’t been able to locate a professional in the oil and gas fields who thinks otherwise. Willingness to try new things is the dominant characteristic of Canadian energy people. If it wasn’t, there would be no oilsands and no shale revolution.

For many professionals in energy-supporting fields such as geophysics, engineering, law and finance, the rapid politicization of these issues is not just about the challenges they face at work.

It is a cultural thing, even translating to the kitchen table at home, where they may find that their offspring are coming home from school demanding to know why mommy and/or daddy are drawing their livelihood from a horrible, planet-killing industry that a Swedish teenager says has to go away tomorrow.

Renewables evangelists talk about a “moonshot” to rapidly disrupt conventional energy systems. As the Manhattan Institute points out in a recent paper , “transforming the energy economy is not like putting a few people on the moon a few times. It is like putting all of humanity on the moon — permanently.”

The “new energy economy” is an exercise in magical thinking, argues author Mark Mills. For the cost to drill a single shale well, one can build two 500-foot-high, 2-megawatt (MW) wind turbines. Those two wind turbines produce a combined output averaging out over the years to the energy equivalent of 0.7 barrels of oil per hour. The same money spent on a single shale rig produces 10 barrels of oil, per hour, or its energy equivalent in natural gas, averaged over the decades.

Mills concludes: “Hydrocarbons — oil, natural gas, and coal — are the world’s principal energy resource today and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.”

Stating this simple reality, one determined by the laws of physics, has become taboo. We are all supposed to politely go along with the messianic idea that windmills, solar panels, and batteries are about to save humanity.

A false sense of confidence is leading politicians at all levels of government to adopt policies that ignore the laws of physics. They do this out of fear of angering a renewables lobby that has been extremely successful in constructing an ecosystem of cultural, social and political support buttressed by strategies like climate lawsuits and elaborate public affairs campaigns.

As the best-endowed energy nation of all the world’s countries, Canada should be on a path to increased economic competitiveness, enhanced environmental performance, and long-term social success. Running away from innovation in hydrocarbons will not help us to accomplish any of that.

Leave it to others to evangelize for an energy miracle that will provide consequence-free energy for all (if such a thing can exist). Those who understand the fundamentals, and can realistically define what’s required to meet the challenges, should not feel restrained from speaking up about what they know and believe.

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