Alex Pourbaix is the Executive Chairman of Cenovus, one of the largest tar sands companies in Canada. He also co-founded the Pathways Alliance, a coalition of the biggest tar sands companies that is misleading Canadians by claiming to work on climate solutions while its companies continue to increase oil extraction — this is expert-level greenwashing!
Pathways Alliance has proposed a carbon capture and storage (CCS) mega-project to try and justify expanding oil and gas production for decades to come. This is despite the expense of CCS, its record of failures and underperformance, and recognition from climate and energy experts that we need to phase out fossil fuels to avoid climate disasters. Most CCS is used for “enhanced oil recovery” meaning the carbon captured is pumped back into the ground to push out more oil. Developing the Pathways Alliance project is currently projected to cost over $16 billion dollars, and Pathways Alliance CEOs like Pourbaix are insisting that governments should cover most of it – even as these companies are making record profits.
Sometimes the industry tells on itself. Before ending his term as CEO of Cenovus, Pourbaix said “One thing a lot of people don’t appreciate is there is no “low-carbon” and “high-carbon” setting in a processing plant or production facility. Pretty much everything we’re going to do to reduce our emissions involves very large-scale capital projects.” These companies know that the writing is on the wall for oil and gas in a low carbon future. But rather than admitting that their product is causing the problem, they continue to insist on producing tar sand oil and crossing their fingers that risky and underperforming CCS technology will allow them to get away with it.
You can fight Big Oil greenwashing by sharing this video explaining CCS and why it’s not a real climate solution
Meanwhile, Pourbaix gets paid millions annually, taking home nearly $13 million in his last year as Cenovus CEO. He lobbies the federal government for more subsidies to pay for false climate solutions like the risky, expensive, and unproven carbon capture scheme that the Pathways Alliance is pushing. He also wants Canada’s efforts to fight climate change watered down, including the emissions cap on oil and gas pollution.
Pourbaix is pushing hard to take us away from effective climate action, and getting very rich while doing it.
- President & CEO of Cenovus Energy: 2017-2023
- TC Energy: 1990-2017
- Chief Operating Officer of TC Energy: 2015-2017
- VP and President Development of TC Energy Corp: 2006-2014
Villain Career Profile
Alex Pourbaix has always gone above and beyond to advocate for pipelines and the oil and gas industry. He is now bringing that dedicated, fossil fuel enthusiasm to media outlets across Canada as one of the lead spokespeople for the Pathways Alliance. He credits his competitive nature for fueling his dedication to maximizing profits in the oil patch, where he’s worked for 34 years.
Pourbaix spent 27 years working for TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corporation) trying to push through the Keystone XL and the Energy East pipelines that saw heavy resistance from communities and climate activists. Both were eventually rejected by governments. In particular, Pourbaix spent years leading the development of the Keystone XL pipeline and the initial bid to have the project approved in the US, and has praised former US president Donald Trump’s approval of the pipeline and cuts to oil and gas industry regulations in the US. He also continues to be a vocal cheerleader for the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Pourbaix was hired to take over as CEO of Cenovus in 2017 after the company’s debt spiked to over $10 billion dollars and shareholders returns were low. He recommitted to making money for investors through expanding oil sands operations. Shortly after he took the helm, the company announced a 15 per cent workforce reduction of roughly 700 employees and contractors. That followed 1,500 worker layoffs in 2015, and 440 in 2016.
Pourbaix is highly effective at gaining personal profits, and raked in millions of dollars in compensation each year as the top dog at Cenovus. In his final year as CEO, Pourbaix received $12.84 million, just slightly down from the near $14 million he received in 2021.
In 2023 Pourbaix transitioned from his role as CEO to becoming the Executive Chair, where he leads Cenovus’s industry advocacy, government relations, engagement with investors, and provides ongoing direction with the Pathways Alliance. The Pathways Alliance and Cenovus combined have lobbied the federal government at least 160 times in 2023.
Spokesperson for False Solutions
- As reported by The Canadian Press, “Pourbaix has been one of the most outspoken advocates of the Pathways plan and has been heavily involved in the group’s efforts to secure federal and provincial support for a massive proposed carbon capture and storage transportation line…”
Championing Failed Pipelines
- On the Energy East pipeline, Pourbaix said in an interview, “I have never seen an infrastructure project that is more important, more necessary, more beneficial to the country… I was a huge supporter of the project I was responsible for most of the time we had it going”, and blames the province of Quebec and lack of federal political support for the project’s failure.
- For years Pourbaix was a tireless advocate for the controversial, and eventually canceled Keystone XL pipeline expansion. Despite widespread and sustained resistance across the US, Canada, impacted communities and Indigenous groups, which eventually resulted in a resounding win for the climate movement, Pourbaix lobbied governments and regulators in the US and Canada for years trying to push the project forward.
Pulling in the big bucks
- In his final year as CEO of Cenovus, Pourbaix received $12.84 million, slightly down from the near $14 million he received in 2021. A Cenovus representative said that Pourbaix has 15.8 times the share ownership of his base salary.
- Pourbaix was TransCanada’s second highest paid executive, pulling in $6 million in total compensation in 2016, up from $4.9 million in 2015.
Overseeing regular leaks and spills
- In June 2023 Cenovus spilled 2,000 litres of diesel from a generator, with more than 1,000 litres entering a popular fishing lake. The Alberta Energy Regulator gave the company a non-compliance order, which compels the company to assess and contain the release, and submit a series of action plans.
- In 2018, 250,000 litres of oil leaked from a Husky Oil production site off the coast of Newfoundland. The spill was impossible to clean up. Cenovus bought Husky in 2018, and was given three charges by the regulator in 2021. The case is ongoing, now with six legal charges total, and should be concluded in 2024.
- During Pourbaix’s tenure at TC Energy, its original Keystone pipeline had 18 leaks of increasing severity in the US, including a spill of over 63,000 litres in 2016 (roughly 400 barrels) and 100,000 litres (6,500 barrels) in 2017. In Canada, regulators noted 21 incidents in the Keystone I pipeline’s first year in operation.
The Climate Villains campaign highlights the leaders of the fossil fuel industry that play key roles in expanding and financing climate-wrecking fossil fuels, blocking climate action, and spreading disinformation. These villains are more concerned about their profits and wealth than the future of the planet, and that’s why we’re profiling the ‘resume’ of each climate villain.
We know that government intervention is critical for tackling the climate crisis with decisive urgency and at the scale necessary, so our approach is to put pressure on governments to pass more ambitious climate policies.
While we aim to advance policy that works in the public interest, oil and gas executives, and their powerful allies, are using their political power to block climate action in order to personally profit from more oil and gas production. This is nothing new: these companies have been actively blocking climate policy for decades. Their earlier tactics involved straight-up climate denial, and now they have pivoted to delaying, greenwashing and pushing dangerous distractions. And many people, including those in the government, are falling for it.
That’s why we’ll profile each of the villains, so you can learn more about the tactics they use to delay climate action and what you can do to fight back for real climate solutions.