Oil industry insiders in Alberta are not at all impressed with what they see as a hypocritical letter from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
The letter in question was sent to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), along with 19 other oil producers, and requests that the companies begin taking financial responsibility for the "climate-related harm caused in our community by your products."
The letter made the rounds amongst oil industry insiders on Wednesday, Dec. 12, and came as a surprise to some, said Danny Labelle, senior VP of exploration at Calgary-based Hammerhead Resources.
"Not surprise about the opposition to the oil and gas industry—a lot of surprise about how naive it is, and kind of how uneducated it is," Labelle said, adding that the letter is hypocritical given that it boasts about Whistler's three million visitors a year and was signed by Mayor Jack Crompton, who owns a transportation company.
"(The reaction is) very negative, and it's not negative because it's opposed to oil and gas—everybody's got opinions and have their rights to them—it's that it's extremely hypocritical."
While the letter is dated Nov. 15 and signed by Crompton, it was actually an initiative of the previous council, which passed a motion Sept. 4 to add the RMOW to the list of municipalities—including Squamish—sending "climate accountability" letters to demand 20 of the world's largest fossil fuel companies pay their fair share of costs associated with climate change.
The climate accountability campaign is a project of West Coast Environmental Law, and was brought to council by community groups My Sea to Sky and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).
The letter highlights Whistler's concerns about the local impacts of climate change—more rain in the valley in the winter, coupled with longer, hotter, drier summers—as well as recent efforts to reduce wildfire risk.
"These challenges and costs will only be greater if companies continue to develop fossil fuel reserves, ignoring the scientists who tell us that we cannot safely develop all of the existing reserves, and in fact need a dramatic shift toward renewable energy," the letter reads.
While climate change is a multi-faceted issue, and all individuals and organizations bear responsibility, "we suggest that your company and your industry bear a larger portion of the responsibility," the letter reads.
"Your industry is aware that its products have a negative impact on the climate, yet continues to develop new resources."
Sixteen communities in B.C. have signed on to the campaign, along with the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, which represents 53 local governments, said Andrew Gage, staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.
The campaign aims to bridge the separation between conversations about the profitability of the fossil fuel industry and the costs of climate change, Gage said.
"As long as you keep those two conversations separate, you're not doing a true accounting of the costs of our fossil fuel economy," he said.
And it's largely because this industry has not had to pay its cost ... that they've made very poor choices from a climate-change perspective: They have taken out patents on solar energy and then just sat on them. They've funded climate misinformation, because it's much more profitable for them to pretend that this is not a problem."
The municipalities on the frontlines of climate change will bear the brunt of the cost, Gage said, referencing a provincial government study that estimates Metro Vancouver needs to spend $9.5 billion in the next 100 years to deal with rising sea levels alone, and the back-to-back record-breaking wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018.
"So those types of costs are massive, and we have not as a society begun to wrap our head around the question of how are we going to pay for these collectively, and can we really do it when the industry that's made the most money off of causing the problem is not paying any of the costs," he said.
"It's the beginning of a conversation about how do we collectively deal with these costs, (and) how do we ensure that our society is collectively reflecting them in the balance sheets?"
CNRL (which did not immediately respond to a request for comment), however, was not on West Coast's list of the top-20 producers in the world, Gage noted.
The RMOW sent the letter to 20 producers, though CNRL was the only Canadian company to receive it. An RMOW spokesperson said its list was "compiled from lists of the largest oil and gas companies globally and in Canada."
The top 20 largest fossil fuel companies are responsible for about 29.4 per cent of human-caused GHG emissions.
CNRL, for its part, represents about 0.08 per cent of global, human-caused emissions.
Oil industry consultant and writer Terry Etam wrote a response to Crompton's letter, posted to industry site www.boereport.com.
Reached by phone, he said the letter "went all over the place" yesterday.
"It's hard to describe the mood here in Calgary, but it's as down as I've ever seen it," Etam said.
"One hundred thousand people have been thrown out of work in Alberta, so everybody is hyper sensitive to these things, and so when something like this comes across their desk, it's like if you're having a really bad day and then somebody kicks you in the shins—you're not going to get a very good response right?
"So that's what it feels like in Calgary. It's like a punch in the stomach to read something like this."
While the industry understands climate is a concern, the adversarial letter-writing campaign is perhaps not the best way forward, Etam said.
"The energy industry is not without blame here, too. They've done an absolutely terrible job of handling this whole file," Etam said, pointing to things like First Nations relations, approval processes, public trust and speaking up for simple facts.
"So I think we just need a whole new conversation here, because we're wasting a lot of time and energy. People are fighting against each other, which shouldn't be.
"Let's just start again, let's just start talking common sense here, and not get pushed into these corners where you say things like that that are counterintuitive to reality."
Following the backlash from oil industry insiders, Crompton issued a statement further explaining the Whistler position.
"I am the first to acknowledge that Whistler benefits greatly from visitors who are able to travel here because of fossil fuels. Our goal was not to ignore our own role in climate change but to encourage change and action on climate change," the statement reads in part.
"Our Council recognizes that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work directly and indirectly in the oil and gas sector who are proud of the work they do responsibly producing Canada's resources and that thousands of those workers have made a choice to vacation in our community. Our goal was to draw attention to climate change. In no way was our aim to cause anyone to feel unwelcome in Whistler."