Back indigenous ownership of TM pipeline now

CEO Sharon Watkins wrote a column in The Calgary Herald in support of Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the economic benefits it will bring to Canada.

As CEO of a wealth-management company, and Canada’s first wealth-management Certified B Corporation, I keep close tabs on both the global and local economies. And I can assure you the current lack of pipeline capacity to tidewater and global markets hits Canada’s economy hard, with some estimates saying we lose $80 million a day as we’re forced to sell our oil to a single buyer at a deep discount — ouch!

Some look at this as a perennial problem. Others, like a group called Project Reconciliation, led by First Nations and Indigenous people from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, see it as an opportunity.

Project Reconciliation is proposing, through a financing plan that would require no public funding, to buy a majority interest in the Trans Mountain pipeline. Not only would the project help Canada solve an economic stalemate, but it would give the Project Reconciliation group the advantage of majority ownership, as opposed to consultation.

That would make Project Reconciliation a true partnership, and an example to the world about how large industrial projects might work in the future with not only Indigenous communities but other stakeholders.

However, are pipelines the way to go? From renewables to better energy storage, I’m supportive of research and development for all these important technologies. But while our renewables continue to require support as they develop to the scale where they can displace fossil energy for our daily needs, fossil fuels will remain a key part of our economy.

We’re not nearly at the stage where we can turn our backs on safe, well-maintained pipelines to transport energy resources over long distances of land, simply to replace them wholesale with a non-fossil fuel energy sector.

In general terms, modern pipelines, like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) which has been studied for years and twice approved by federal regulators, are by far the safest fuel-transportation option. Its completion would strengthen the link between Alberta oil production and port facilities on the B.C. coast and, ultimately, would allow for global market access, where the product could finally gain a fair market price.

But there is more. Our province’s efforts at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions per barrel are finally paying off. According to a recent study published in Science, waste gas flaring from conventional oil production worldwide
has increased since 2010 — but not in Canada.

The study concluded that, if Canada’s practices to minimize flaring were adopted worldwide, greenhouse-gas emissions per barrel would fall by 23 per cent. Alberta’s — and Canada’s — energy track record speaks volumes about our innovation and our deep commitment to the environmental health and safety of our communities, our air, lands and waterways.

In fact, it’s part of the same Canadian innovation message, where innovation isn’t only about technological prowess and industrial processes, but also about sustainability and leadership in social justice, transparency
and, more recently, reconciliation with — and empowerment of — our Indigenous Peoples.

Up until now, consultation with First Nations and Indigenous communities has often consisted of little more than the cutting of a cheque, when what was needed was mutual respect among partners, a clear understanding of expectations going forward and a long-term commitment to local communities.

This is a foundation to build on. Indigenous ownership through Project Reconciliation could lead to a more engaged, productive and holistic society that Canada has been longing for. For a business person committed to sustainability and reconciliation as I am, this is all very good news.

We’re a resource nation, and our oilsands measure up to the highest environmental standards in the world. Here’s an opportunity to solve the energy transportation gridlock, improve Canada’s investment climate and honour our reconciliation goals of equality and equity for all. Let’s move forward together.

Sharon Watkins is co-founder, CEO and chief investment strategist at Sandstone Asset Management Inc., a Certified B Corporation in recognition of its commitment to using business as a force for good. She is based in Calgary.