Canada has become a country that cannot get anything done but i did (eventually) get my woodshed built!

By: Doug Uffen

Amidst all the hype and hysteria in the media, the posturing by politicians these days, and then the involvement of the courts about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project, the timely construction of my woodshed in Windermere, British Columbia languished, suffering months of construction delay.  The proposed pipeline route goes nowhere close to Windermere, yet this is what happened.

Initial construction began in October of 2017 but was suspended in November as the winter weather closed in.  While the foundation and moorings were set in place with the floor and walls framed in, the trusses had not been completed yet and nothing had been closed in.  Plans to invite a couple of friends out to Windermere, B.C., from Calgary for a woodshed “BRO-Project” extended weekend in April of this year, that included some golf and probably a few beers, ran afoul of politics, yes thanks to the impasse with the Kinder Morgan pipeline fiasco.  One of my good friends, who constituted 33% of this assembled free labour, “BRO-Project” woodshed workforce announced his displeasure and outright anger towards the province of British Columbia by announcing that he would not play golf or spend a single cent in the province until the government of British Columbia stands down about the Kinder Morgan pipeline.  You see, like me, his entire career was within the oil industry located in Calgary, Alberta.  His opinions are so strong he even cancelled his summer vacation plans to take his fifth wheel into British Columbia this year.  Just as the government of Alberta announced for a couple of weeks a boycott on BC wines which was rescinded when the BC government threatened legal action, my friend took it upon himself to conduct his own personalized boycott.

Gone are the days when Canada could build a railroad from coast to coast, build the St. Lawrence Seaway system or a major hydro-electric project such as the James Bay Project in Quebec.  It is not just the situation with the Keystone pipeline, Energy East and Kinder Morgan's expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline that has become a lightning rod for local politicians, the SITE C dam is also having problems with the process as well.  With some indigenous groups looking for financial hand-outs, environmental activists practicing obstructionism, and lobbyist groups in the United States all trying to prevent us from expanding our product supply to world markets, the roadblocks keep being thrown in front of us as an industry.  Yes, some of the protestors to these mega projects are paid by foreign and American entities (just Google: Vivian Krause / Tide USA).  These foreign lobby groups are pitting Canadians against Canadians.  The win for the Americans is simply that they obtain a security of supply from Canada, because we cannot sell our oil anywhere else in any sort of major volume.   This may permit the Americans to be able to thumb their nose at the Middle East when it comes to security of supply for oil stocks.  Yes by 2020, the Americans may become the world’s largest producer of oil.  Combined with the oil they import from Alberta and Mexico, the Americans may not import oil ever again from the Middle East within the next decade, thereby perhaps ending their foreign policy debacle in the Middle East.  While that may help the world and the stability of the Middle East, it does not help Canada.  Currently, the Americans are paying, at the time of this article, a differential discount of up to $45 / barrel (depending upon the API gravity) on the current world price of $62 / barrel ($US).  The absence of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and issues with building other pipelines such as Energy East and Keystone, is costing Canada billions of dollars of revenue and a few percentage points on GDP growth, not to mention the reduced royalty revenue and taxes to be paid on corporate profits, that would go a long way to pay for much needed social programs.     

Canada is the envy of the world.  We are rich in natural resources.  Whether it is oil and gas, mining minerals, soft wood lumber, water, and even fish, Canada is rich in natural resources.  It is not surprising to find that we are a resource-based economy.  Heck, even the Canadian dollar is referred to around the world as a petro-currency.  Hence, I was excited to partake in our nation’s growth by being a geophysicist employed in the oil patch as part of the energy industry.  But it is not just the oil patch that is suffering these days.  International investment in Canada across many sectors of the economy is declining and has for years.  We simply cannot get anything done as we lack real leadership.  Politicians who try to garner every vote by not pissing people off, actually have the opposite effect because people on both sides of an argument get dismayed by inaction over time and eventually vote for change, years after the damage is done.  

It is not just the oil patch which has fallen out of favour.  The irony is that even the government of BC is having problems getting the go-ahead on the Site C dam hydro-electric project.  It has been mired in process for years and now Alberta has ceased talks with BC about purchasing some of the hydro electricity it plans to receive in retaliation for the pipeline debacle.  Has NIMBY-ism now progressed to the point where provincial governments fight between each other?  Isn’t it interesting that we have two provincial NDP governments duking it out with each other?  It is time for real leadership. 

The geophysical industry has done its part to significantly reduce our impact and footprint on the landscape with respect to our field operations.  Our seismic acquisition talents combined with data processing makes us the best in the world onshore.  As an industry group, we are stewards of the environment because we have narrowed cut-lines, used mulching and other low impact techniques and even pioneered heli-portable operations to lower our footprint.  

Consultation with all stakeholders and special interest groups is a good thing until it takes on a shape and form of obstructionism.  Regional differences of opinion, the environmental movement and NIMBY-ism has been allowed to paralyze this country to the point where we have developed a reputation around the world that Canada cannot get anything done, hence do not invest in this country. Are we a country anymore?  With all of our regional differences of opinion, are we now just a pawn on the American chess board, just being played by them?

Fortunately, my woodshed did not require any permits or approvals from any local governments or regulatory bodies or I might still be mired in the process or perhaps even still in the courts.  However, I had to cancel my BRO-project weekend back in the spring, admitting defeat due to the fall-out of the Kinder Morgan pipeline dispute caused by the grandstanding of our politicians.  Due to this, the province of BC lost-out on about $1000.00 of revenue from golf green fees, beer and hotdogs at the turn.  And yes, while it took a bit longer, I did get my woodshed built this past summer.  I took a week of vacation time in July, which as a consultant cost me a few thousand dollars of lost revenue, just so that I could get my woodshed built.  The lost consulting revenue far exceeded the value of the lumber and materials.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  

I am just dismayed that our politicians continue to play these games, giving cause for people on either side of a situation to get so angry about things that they draw their own personal line in the sand.  With respect to my woodshed, that line in the sand was drawn in a golf sand-trap!  Fairly harmless I guess, but is this any different than what we have witnessed to date on the national stage?  The level of anger witnessed in some people is no different.  It is now unfortunate that public money is going to be used to move the Kinder Morgan pipeline project forward, assuming the courts will permit it.   The oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to the Canadian economy.  It is time all Canadians are reminded of that.

Doug Uffen is a geophysical consultant who is registered as a professional geophysicist with APEGA and a professional geoscientist with APEGBC.  He is a Past President of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (CSEG), a former CSEG Foundation (CSEGF) Board Member and a former Board Member for the Calgary Geoscience Data Managers Society (CGDMS).  He is also a non-carded carpenter, now specializing in woodshed construction. 


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