Bill Whitelaw: ​Should the oil and gas industry threaten to strike?

billwhitelawMaybe the oil and gas sector should take a page from the CUPW playbook and go on rotating strike.

Look how fast Ottawa jumped to the pump on the postal file.

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Screw with timely arrival of Canadian gifts at Christmas. Nosiree.

But their gas tanks? A whole other matter entirely.

That's why the sector should consider rotating "NNHDs.”

This is the maybe-not-so-imaginary concept of National No-Hydrocarbon Days.

Let's set the first round for July 1, 2019. And target Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver to start.

It will be the day the oil and gas sector disconnects itself from Canadians in key areas around the country.

Deliberately. Starting with the gas tank.

To the degree the Canadian Christmas present is symbolic as a way of life, so too should be the fuel tank.

So, take some action. Plan a process by which the stations will be empty in those cities on (or ideally before) July 1. There will be pain for the industry and its retailers to be sure, but what's another bruise when you're already black and blue all over?

But a point has to be emphatically made.

We need a day when, literally, parts of country grind to a halt. Be bold: even take out public transit where possible. And hopefully millions of Canadians smack themselves right upside the head with a big old Homer Simpson D'OH.

Here's why: we need something designed deliberately to hit both anti-energy and complacent Canadians where it hurts: their energy-entitled lives. These rotating "empty tank" days should be designed to focus their attention on a critical drama playing out, literally under their noses, but to which they're paying scant attention: the rapid erosion of a sector the importance of which underpins so much of what makes Canada's economic engine tick.

While the current debate swirls around the notion of government-sanctioned production cuts to reset the pricing differential dynamics, it's a good bet most Canadians are paying little notice. It may help the industry short-term, but it's as everyone knows, just that: a band-aid on a wound that's rapidly going from festering to just about borderline gangrenous. Serious times call for serious measures.

It's fascinating to see this play out as if it were a drama only on a political stage. It is that. But anyone in the energy world who believes that it's merely (and only) politicians to blame is living in an alternative universe.

Politicians derive their power from one place only: the ballot box. They know this. It drives every calculation they make. Look how Alberta's NDPers are cozily aligning with the energy sector as the 2019 election looms. They know next year Albertans will be at the polling stations with itchy carbon-stained fingers. Justin Trudeau has a more ticklish dilemma. He has mightily ticked off Albertans aplenty. But he has other constituencies to consider; doing something beyond anodyne bromides to placate "Calgary" could spell problems elsewhere.

But in the petroleum industry we just don't seem to have cottoned on to the fact many Canadians need a poke in the eye with a sharp (metaphorical, to be clear) stick.

The real issue is Canadians who deliberately don't care — and Canadians who don't know enough to care that the energy sector is on its knees; forehead aiming for the dirt. And it's more than a flesh wound.

Both cohorts described above are energy entitled; the former (and more hypocritical) using petroleum-derived energy while pushing the knife in deeper; the latter just plainly suffering a malignant combination of ignorance and apathy — malignant as opposed to benign because the consequences are that grave. Fortunately, the latter vastly outnumbers the former. But in a curious contradiction, the smaller (and substantially more vocal) seemed to have convinced many politicians that the choice between energy and the environment is starkly binary. It's anything but.

Yet it is from this perceived reality that politicians derive their real direction. Most left-leaning ideologues believe they are simply carrying out the people's will. For the small sector of vocal opponents they are; for the greater group they're misreading silence as sentiment.

It's that sentiment that needs to be tectonically shifted.

Here's the real irony in all this. Canadians own the actual hydrocarbons in question. Actually own them, as in wealth in their pockets. Politicians are great at proclaiming and declaiming about "our" resources. In that sense, they are correct.

But in industry we need to be better at forcefully telling Canadians these are actually "your" resources; that these molecules work for your quality of life in myriad ways. The days of bar graphs and pie charts and incomprehensible numbers have not proven instructive of getting that point across.

As resource owners, Canadians need to step up — or else we who toil in the sector can't make those hydrocarbons work economically for you.

Sadly, to get to that place and shift sentiment at the ballot box, at the risk of being brutally colloquial, they need a swift kick in the energy crotch.

After all, Canadians don't like posties screwing with their Christmas cards; why should politicians screwing with their fuel tanks be any different?

Mark it on July 1, 2019: the day the tanks went dry.

It's a good bet that could make a difference on voting day. 

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO of JWN, as well as executive vice-president, Business Information Group, at Glacier Inc. and managing director of Evaluate Energy, an affiliated energy analytics and research company based in London, UK.

© Copyright 2018 Alaska Highway News

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