From: CAPP CEO and CEOs of the new oil sands Pathways Alliance
To: All employees of oil and gas companies, especially oil sands companies
Note: This sarcastic take on an oil and gas industry memo is based on the experiences of several people who have worked for many years inside the industry
We are at a pivotal time in history for our sector. We have known for a long time that the combustion of oil and gas is the cause of climate change but we were successful in seeding doubt and shifting attention to consumers of fossil fuels as the culprits instead of producers, refiners and distributors. Now that the effects of climate change are being felt by the public this technique will no longer work. We now need to shift our efforts from denial to convincing the public and governments that not only do we agree with the need to get to net zero by 2050, but we have a plan to get there, and can be trusted to implement the plan.
The recent federal discussion paper on oil and gas emission reduction regulatory options shows us we are in a high stakes game. There is a real chance we will actually be forced to reduce our own emissions, decreasing our profitability, if we aren’t successful in swaying public opinion in our favour.
We are particularly vulnerable because of how profitable our businesses are right now. If we all use the same sophisticated communications lines presented below, we have the best chance of success.
Remember, our sectoral emissions reduction communication approach is to deliberately draw attention to our emission reduction efforts, and avoid speaking about actual performance.
Under no circumstance must we speak about our actual current and likely future performance, which of course is poor, especially in the case of our oil sands colleagues in relation to their international peers.
The approved communications approach is to draw attention to:
Market research consistently shows that one of the most effective ways to garner general public support is to highlight collaborative efforts. Polling shows Canadians like cooperation rather than confrontation and competition. This is why oil sands companies deliberately rebrand their collaboration efforts every 6-8 years.
Highlight the general innovation and problem solving capabilities of the sector. Use technical people (engineers and scientists) as spokespeople. Highlight specific innovations even if not important or scalable.
Talk about existing research/innovation, and ideas that are not actually being pursued, as if all are active, promising and breakthroughs are imminent.
Highlight effort, not outcomes
Draw attention to the dollars spent, number of research projects, number of people involved in research and innovation, not the success of research and innovation efforts.
Emissions intensity improvements
Speak about intensity improvements but don’t benchmark improvements. We have data that shows oil sands companies have reduced their by about 1.5-2% / year for decades. Recent emissions intensity improvements highlighted by the sector are in line with this decades long historical pace. The pace of intensity reductions has not improved with time but don’t draw attention to this.
Agree with NZ2050 objective (but not interim targets)
We can avoid the need for early investment and timely progress by emphasizing that we fully support decarbonization and we have a plan in place to attain the final outcome of net zero 2050. Remember to de-emphasize the utility of interim targets or suggest that they are not needed to ensure progress and attain net zero by 2050.
World class regulatory system
Emphasize the world class caliber of the regulatory system but don’t draw attention to actual environmental performance, which (for oil sands) is still among the worst global performers especially on emissions and water intensity.
Sure we are extremely profitable right now, but when speaking publicly emphasize that that is not likely to last, so if we want to maintain jobs and the tax base it is not realistic to ask us to pay for our emission reduction efforts ourselves.
Use an ESG communication framework to imply that Canada is a world leader in all three ESG categories, in stark contrast to dictatorships and their weak social and environmental performance. While some of this might be true (but don’t draw attention to our abysmal performance with indigenous Canadians, and the fact that we generally don’t have women leaders in our sector), we must deliberately use this technique to distract attention away from our poor absolute emissions performance.
Seed doubt in our ability to make the emissions reductions necessary for us to play our part in getting to Canada’s 2030 emission reduction goal. Deny our past obfuscation efforts, and do not draw attention to the fact that the world has been negotiating emissions reduction for 30 years so this issue has in no way snuck up on us.
Constantly appear willing to make progress by asking for a true partnership with governments. What this means of course is that we want the taxpayer to pay for our emissions reduction but asking for a partnership sounds much better.
We can put governments on the defensive by saying that we need policy certainly for action, but don’t have it, so we can’t act now. We have used this technique for decades and it is very effective. Oddly we have never been asked to define what policy certainty we need, and have never been asked to truly help in getting policy certainty in a complicated democracy, but let’s not point that out.
There are CAPP CEO and CEOs of the new oil sands Pathways Alliance on our list of Canada’s Top Climate Villains – find out who they are here.