Teck: post-mortem – (they got the message, should we get theirs?)

Teck’s mega “Frontier” oilsands mining project is dead, abandoned by its owner, Teck Resources, on February 23, 2020. Why? Global News said a few days later,

[i]t’s still not entirely clear what led Teck Resources to withdraw its proposed Frontier oilsands mine, nor is it clear why that decision came just days before we were to learn whether Ottawa would approve the project.

There’s not likely a single explanation to all of this, but the company’s deliberately vague announcement left the door open for others to fill in those blanks with their own spin

But the reasons are not really that mysterious. Teck CEO and president Don Lindsay wrote that they had “unprecedented support from Indigenous communities” and the project “was deemed to be in the public interest by a joint federal-provincial review panel following weeks of public hearings and a lengthy regulatory process,” and that the project was “commercially viable.”

But he listed as their key reason, “..global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products.”

And went on to wisely say, “[u]nfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.”

So, he essentially said that markets are changing due to climate change, and Alberta/Canada are not addressing that sufficiently, and they don’t want to get in a big public dispute over it. That’s pretty clear, and reasonable. They probably had their lawyers and advisors look at Northern Gateway, Energy East, Keystone XL, and Trans-Mountain. They probably got advice that they were in for a huge battle, which would be very expensive, they were not sure to win, and they definitely would not win the PR side of it. Good advice.

Perhaps most insightful is that a few days later Teck bought  “SunMine Solar Energy Facility.” They bought a solar farm. At the same time JP Morgan has pulled out of big oil funding Teck has sold the past and bought into the future, policy be damned. Industry is giving up on big oil and gas.

This hasn’t just happened overnight. In September 2019 CNBC posted an article “Climate change: Did we just witness the beginning of the end of Big Oil?” There have been many others like it. The CNBC article made these two key points:

  • The energy sector is notorious for booms and busts, but oil and gas stocks’ weighting in the S&P 500 has not been this low since as far back as 1979.
  • Investors have lost faith in oil companies, but it is not yet clear whether that is a permanent change caused by fear of increasing advances made by renewable-energy sources like wind, solar and electric batteries, or a temporary reluctance to invest caused by low oil prices.

Well, if it wasn’t clear in 2019 it certainly  must be after recent news. A March, 2017 Environmental Defence article titled “Seven oil multinationals that are pulling out of Canada’s tar sands” and said that “[l]ast week brought big news that Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s largest multinational oil companies, would sell off its Canadian tar sands assets.”

That’s right, let’s not forget Shell’s withdrawal in 2017, which Environmental Defence attributed to, “low oil prices, stronger policies to fight climate change, and the accelerating global shift to renewable energy make the tar sands uneconomical.”

This again calls into question government funding and support for the oil and gas industry. If Teck’s Frontier mine isn’t viable, should we be putting government money into TMX, subsidies? Arguably Teck’s withdrawal makes oil and gas subsidies that much more questionable – should we be using government money to prop up a dying, or transforming, industry? When Teck said they are “looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change” and then bought a solar farm – doesn’t that imply government money should be going into renewables, not oil and gas?

Does this also say that those who have been fighting against new oil and gas projects, whether they experienced success or failure in each instance, have contributed to shaping the context in which project decisions are made?

The writing is on the wall.

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