THE BLOG

Clean Energy Jobs Overshadow Oil and Gas Jobs? Oh C'mon!

12/05/2014 05:48 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
Tetra Images - Dan Bannister via Getty Images

One fact jumped right off the page as I looked over this week's coverage of job numbers from Tides affiliate Clean Energy Canada.

It wasn't the fact the report claimed to have generated more jobs than all the jobs in the oilsands put together. Such a ludicrous claim came as no great surprise. Clean Energy Canada cherry-picks data like the slick, US-backed pros that they are. I expected as much.

No, what really surprised me was the effortless way Clean Energy spokesperson Merran Smith has managed her transition from anti-oilsands ForestEthics ideologue to the appearance of a constructive energy analyst in such short order.

I remember Ms. Smith - former Sierra Club of BC and ForestEthics staffer - through her organizations' eyebrow-raising participation (both ForestEthics and Tides) in a pitch for several million dollars from US foundations in New York.

Oil Sands Benefit

Back in 2007, a number of environmental activist groups banded together in order to shut down the oilsands through a number of agreed means - all of them explained on a PowerPoint presentation delivered in a Manhattan office to a number of US donors.

According to the leaked PowerPoint, they were going to stop/limit pipelines and refinery expansions, force the issues regarding "tar sands" water, toxics and land reforms, significantly reduce future demand for "tar sands" oil, leverage the "tar sands" debate for "policy victories" in the US and Canada and generate unity around the fuels endgame and sell it to decision-makers.

In other words, the plan was to stop the Canadian project through cutting off transportation, drive up costs, spread horror stories about the product and its impacts and sell it all to the public through a very pricey activist campaign financed by US donors.

Ms. Smith's role hasn't changed much since then. Her Clean Energy Canada position, presumably underwritten in part by those same US donors, still places her effectively on the payroll of Tides Canada, a key funder of the anti-oilsands campaign referenced in that same PowerPoint presentation.

Only now she's being careful not to fall into the old anti-oilsands model, given that model hasn't been working very well lately. Instead, she's the face of feel-good green report about how the clean energy sector provides more jobs than does oil and gas.

"There were 23,700 people directly employed by the clean energy industry in 2013, compared to 22,340 jobs in the oilsands," the report is said to have found.

She ignores the fact oilsands companies are some of the largest alternative energy producers in the country. Pipeline operator Enbridge, for example, has a renewable energy portfolio that produces over 1,800 MW of energy - enough electricity to supply almost 600,000 homes.

Even worse, Tides has cherry picked its economic data. The report includes a wide range of "related" jobs as "renewable energy jobs," including manufacturing. But in the case of its oil and gas analysis, Tides only counts "direct" oilsands jobs, purposely excluding manufacturing and other services in its oilsands operations numbers.

I think you know where I'm going with this. The report has little value, as might be expected from a dedicated anti-oilsands campaigner who cut her oil-and-gas teeth pitching for US dollars from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

By any fair analysis it is false that more Canadians are employed in green energy-related jobs than oilsands-related jobs. And it's part of Smith's divisive campaign to injure the oilsands in the view of the public.

Need further proof? If Smith were correct (and she's not) that clean energy job numbers have now surpassed oilsands job numbers, then would she continue advocating for government to subsidize further green jobs in Canada? No. Taken at face value, her report seems to suggest clean energy no longer needs the huge subsidies it's been getting through feed-in tariffs and the like.

But in terms of job numbers, her findings are in stark contrast to the highly respected Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) that recently found the following: total investment in new Alberta oilsands projects, plus sustaining capital in existing projects, will exceed $514 billion in the 2014-38 period.

CERI also found that revenue from all existing and new projects will exceed $2.5 trillion, and workers will benefit, it said, as total direct, indirect and induced jobs in the oilsands grow from 514,000 in 2014 to a peak of 802,000 jobs in 2028. In Alberta, that number will grow from 146,000 jobs now to a peak of 256,000 jobs in 2024.

As to the federal government, they can count on $574 billion in oilsands-related taxes in the next 25 years.

As to the CO2 component of that kind of growth in the oilsands, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol recently forecast that over the next 25 years oilsands production in Canada will increase by 3 million barrels per day, "but the emissions of this additional production is equal to only 23 hours of emissions in China - not even one day."

I've said it before: Compared to China whose GHG emissions amount to more than a quarter of all global GHG emissions, or the US where that country is responsible for more than 17 percent of the global figure, or even Europe's 12 percent figure, Canada's contribution is tiny.

And yet the IEA forecast that by 2040 world demand for oil will hit 104 million barrels per day compared to today's 92 million. As a top oil reserve country and a top renewable energy producer, Canada is a world leader on both scores.

But the IEA numbers mean we'll need all energy sources. In its continuing pursuit to block the oilsands, Tides seeks to create a negative story that misrepresents the immense economic contribution the oilsands make to Canadian families.

Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder/spokeperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer organization that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it.