For many of us the oil industry is one of those big divisive subjects that you just avoid like the plague for the sake of a little less arguing. Oil and gas has been and is hugely important in a lot of people’s lives, and played a role in making Canada the rich and successful country it is today. But cleaning up Canada’s carbon-heavy energy sector is crucial in fighting climate breakdown, protecting people’s health and building a more sustainable economy.

So how can we find the words to talk to people we don’t agree with?

Part of the reason oil is so divisive is because there’s a lot of misinformation out there. In this short series we’re going to break down and evaluate some of the most common pro-oil or anti-regulation arguments that you might hear around the dinner table:

1. Environmentalists want to shut down the oil industry immediately

Canada’s environmental movement knows that phasing out the oil and gas industry tomorrow, or even over the next few years, is neither possible nor practical.  But that doesn’t mean it should keep expanding. Canada’s oil and gas industry will have to be phased out over the next few decades to avoid dangerous climate change impacts.

There are already enough power plants, industrial plants, buildings and cars in the world to warm the planet by more than 2 degrees C, and well beyond 1.5 degrees. That means that to address climate change the fossil fuel projects we already have need to be retired early. And there is definitely no space for building new oil, coal, and natural gas projects that will further increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Want more detail? Click ‘read more’ to reveal a more in-depth answer.

A sixty-foot section of pipe is lowered into a trench during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Oklahoma, U.S.

2. Canada’s oil is cleaner/ lower carbon than oil from other countries

In short, unfortunately this is not true.

A 2018 study that evaluated the carbon intensity of 50 oil producing countries found that oil produced in Canada is the fourth most carbon intensive oil in the world. We came in just after Algeria, Venezuela and Cameroon.

Oil from Canada is, on average, 70 per cent more polluting than the global average.

A large hydrolic excavator stripping away layers of oil loaded sand.

3. Oil is the backbone of the Canadian economy

This is a big one. 

The pro-oil lobby tells us we have to choose between jobs or the environment.  But the choice isn’t between jobs and the environment, it’s between the fossil fuel industry and a livable climate. We can have good jobs and a healthy environment, if we have a managed phase-out of oil and gas and support for workers to move into other industries.

Resource extraction has played a significant role in the Canadian economy. Hardworking people have supported their families and communities with well-paying jobs in oil and gas. But pro-oilers have been caught on numerous occasions exaggerating the sector’s economic importance and taking statistics out of context to inflate employment. 


The oil and gas sector hit peak employment in 2014, and has been shedding jobs ever since. Over 53,000 jobs were lost from 2014 through 2019 – even before the combined crises of 2020 brought another round of massive layoffs. Supporting workers to transition into new industries or clean tech jobs is going to be crucial to managing the sector’s decline.

Meanwhile, across Canada the clean energy sector already employs more people than the fossil fuel industry. And investments in clean stimulus create nearly three times as many jobs for every $10 million invested by governments.


The economic story is similar. For most of the past 20 years the oil and gas industry has averaged about five per cent of Canadian GDP, and about 0.4 per cent of employment, not the 10 per cent claimed by some pro-oil lobbyists. The finance, manufacturing, real estate, public administration, health care and professional services sectors all take larger shares of Canada’s economy.

The sector is also heavily subsidised. Recent estimates put annual subsidies to oil and gas companies in Canada at at least $5 billion, plus handouts of more than $16 billion CAD since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More questions answered in part two

Of course, more knowledge is always a good thing. But sometimes the best thing you can do is listen, connect on a personal level, and ask questions. As important as they are, facts rarely change people’s opinions. But hearing someone out and having an open conversation is one way we can build bridges and shift perspectives. 

Watch out for part 2 of this series! We’ll look at more of the most common arguments you’ll hear about Canada’s oil and gas industry.