After 72 years, Canada's oldest oil and gas trade association is announcing a new brand and mandate on Thursday, including the removal of the word "oil" from its name.
The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) will replace "oilwell drilling" with "energy" to attract new members in a wider variety of fields, not strictly those involved in oilpatch drilling.
The new direction comes at a time when the sector is facing increasing pressure to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and transition to lower-emitting sources of energy.
CAODC member companies have already approved the new direction, although some grudgingly voted in favour of the name change.
"It seems a shame to me" to change the association's name, said Scott Darling, president of Performance Energy Services in Calgary.
It's not that Darling doesn't believe in climate change or that he doesn't understand how the world is shifting to lower-emitting sources of energy, but he does feel pride in being part of the oil industry.
Not only does it support tens of thousands of families and bolster government coffers, but it provides a material used in countless products — from cars and computers to clothing and medical supplies.
"Quietly, people wish we didn't have to do this, but overtly everybody kind of feels that we do have to do something like that," he said, discussing the mood among member companies.
Darling's company could be considered more of an environmental than an oilpatch business, since all of his crews are currently focused on cleaning up old oil and gas wells.
Association's new branding questioned
Calgary-based CAODC heard concerns from members but said the new mandate will broaden the organization as the world turns to many sources of energy in the future, such as liquefied natural gas, hydrogen and geothermal. The group could also play a role in the growing carbon capture and storage industry.
"The demand for energy has never been higher, and the global marketplace has set a mandate for not only low carbon, renewable, clean alternatives, but for responsible and ethical processes throughout the production lifecycle," the association's president, Mark Scholz, said in a message to member companies.
Over the last few decades, several companies have removed the word "oil" from their name. Using the term "energy" often doesn't mean a change in a company's operations and is just a euphemism for oil and natural gas, said Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies environmental, climate and energy policy.
CAODC emphasizes its "role in fighting regulation and hostile opposition to the industry, so that gives me pause whether this is true diversification or whether this is embracing a euphemism 15 years later than everyone else that is actually intended to distract us from the carbon intensity of fossil fuels," she said.
Several large oil and gas companies faced pressure this week to improve their environmental performance.
A tiny activist investment firm formed less than six months ago won at least two seats on ExxonMobil's board on Wednesday, a sign that investors are increasingly willing to force companies to tackle climate change.
A group called Engine No. 1, had launched an activist campaign against Exxon in December, describing the company as a fossil-fuel dinosaur that lacked a coherent plan for surviving a global transition to cleaner energy sources.
It's the latest episode in a long journey by investors and analysts to focus on climate-change risks, both from a business case and a humanitarian one, said Rory Johnston, managing director and market economist at Price Street, an investment technology company in Toronto.
"Exxon has generally been known to be one of the laggards on climate policy and one of the companies that hasn't gone as far as others who are trying to proactively commit to energy transition policies," he said.
Royal Dutch Shell was ordered to cut its carbon emissions by net 45 per cent by 2030 by a Dutch court, in a case brought by climate activism groups.
Net zero goal
Meanwhile, in a presentation to investors on Wednesday, Suncor Energy said it is now committed to a net-zero-by-2050 carbon emissions target.
The new goal is an upgrade from its previous target set in 2015 to reduce emissions intensity from upstream operations by 30 per cent by 2030.
Suncor says it expects to cut greenhouse gas emissions through improvements at its oilsands operations and growth in its renewable fuels, electricity and hydrogen businesses.
"I hesitate to call it a plan because the details of what we're doing in 2044 or 2042 are not defined clearly, but we understand where all our emissions come from, we understand the technology sets that are required and we have specific initiatives underway that get us started on this," Suncor CEO Mark Little said in an interview.
The company still plans to increase oilsands production in the next five years.
"These big companies see the writing on the wall [that] if they're not part of the transition, they're going to be left behind, and they're not going to be part of the energy future that they want to be part of," said Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy in Kingston, Ont.
"If you harness your wagon to just oil and gas, in a decade or two you're going to find yourself a long way behind the pack" he said.
CAODC will be officially known as the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors after a formal announcement Thursday morning. Energy ministers from the Alberta, Saskatchewan and federal governments are scheduled as speakers.
Canada's environmental workforce grew by five per cent in 2020 — adding nearly 35,000 net new jobs — according to a report in March by ECO Canada, which also forecasts thousands more environmental job openings over the next five years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.
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