By Matt Palmer
In an article in the Calgary Herald this morning (http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/Oilsands+monitoring+vital+Kvisle/6053560/story.html) Hal Kvisle is urging the Provincial Government to act quickly on instituting a scientifically sound environmental monitoring system. This is something that must be done and done quickly.
Mr Kvisle further states “the most pressing issues have to do with Alberta‘s reputation rather than any acute environmental concern”. This statement is an excellent example of why the energy industry is behind the eight ball. There is a public relations/reputation problem, but to disconnect that problem from the real concerns that people have about acute environmental impacts from energy production is a mistake. Ask the people who have been impacted by recent pipeline spills (i.e Michigan Enbridge spill) if what they are dealing with is less important than Alberta’s reputation? There is a PR problem, but the solution is not going to be found through better ad campaigns or forceful sound bites in the media, or glossy commercials designed to enhance our reputation. The solution is in action. Actions that are transparent and measurable.
Whether industry likes it or not, they have a giant target on their back. Everyone is keeping track of what they are saying and doing, and no matter what they do they will be criticized. Fair or not, this is now the cost of doing business, and it is imperative that the energy industry and government realize increasing the rhetoric will not solve the problem. Being out ahead of the problems or potential issues with definitive plans and actions will go much further.
Imagine how perception might change if industry lead the way by paying for the environmental monitoring system. Hired qualified third-party organizations matched with government to run it. Industry needs to push the agenda, rather than always waiting to be forced to do it. If it is the right thing to do, make it happen. Actions will help solve PR and reputation problems, not expensive ad campaigns. If industry took the money being spent on advertising, that doesn’t work anyway, and instead put that money into actions that will address the real concerns people have about environmental impacts, they may have better results.
When it comes to the environment and resource development there is a stronger case to be had for ensuring that corners are not cut, and that sometimes profits and even bonuses need to be sacrificed to ensure that things are done right. In big projects like these worrying more about the bottom line than doing things like going beyond the regulations or picking a pipeline route even though it is more expensive because it averts potential environmental issues, may in the long run cost less money. One has only to look at what happened with Keystone XL to understand that.
The other point to consider is that diminishing people’s concerns about the environment is not going to win the day. Whether what they are concerned about is real or not, misses the fact that their “concerns” are real.