This Wednesday will be Hal Kvisle's last day as chief executive officer of TransCanada a North American pipeline giant and rising force in power generation. Mr. Kvisle, 57, the CEO for nine years, plans to stick around for another two months to ease the transition to his successor, Russ Girling. Meanwhile, Mr. Kvisle has some parting thoughts on environmental activism, the state of the industry, and his legacy in a company that he has greatly strengthened, but which he leaves at a time of looming challenges.
Will you get a chance to do the things you've always wanted to do?
I have outside interests like the Nature Conservancy of Canada. There is this perception that corporations generally, and corporate leaders in particular, don't give a darn about the environment - that we simply want to make money and environmental consequences be damned.
But growing up here as a young engineer, I was very impressed with how companies like Dome Petroleum drilled wells without damaging the environment. There is no other industrial activity that mankind does that generates more wealth and good for humanity with less impact on the environment than oil and gas. You have a well that's worth $10-million and takes up a quarter of an acre. That's incredible.
But that's just looking at the ratio of financial wealth to footprint.
And there are things we can do better. As oil and gas footprints get bigger, we can do more to conserve and protect alternative areas. For example, as the footprint in northeast Alberta grows bigger as oil development picks up, maybe we should conserve more of the Foothills' front ranges of the Rockies or different parts of northwest Alberta.
Should there be a specific ratio of exploited to conserved land?
I don't have a prescribed ratio in mind, but the principle is that we conserve offsetting acreage for the parts we exploit and develop. Then, we do what we have to do to reclaim oil- and gas-activity lands - to at least as good a shape as before the industry arrived. That's the stuff I'd like to help people understand and get them to commit to.
Will the BP spill spur a shift of opinion in favour of the oil sands, whose environmental issues the world at least knows?
I'd say the world doesn't really know the environmental risks of the oil sands. They've been greatly exaggerated and overblown by activist organizations, who have different agendas on the go. Even with our friends at the Pembina Institute, it is very disappointing to see how they have devolved into just an arm of various U.S. organizations. These parties, such as Natural Resources Defence Council and Greenpeace, make statements about the oil sands that mostly aren't true.
If you really know the situation in northeast Alberta, you'd appreciate hydrocarbons have been leaking into the Athabasca River as long as the oil sands have been there, and as long as the river has been cutting through them. You'd recognize the boreal forest, which they have so much praise for, is actually quite an insignificant forest in that part of the world. You'd understand the footprint of the oil sands is not as big as Florida, but, in fact, a lot smaller.
Once you cut through all the misinformation and realize the oil sands are a great, stable long-term source of crude, the only real concern we have is that they are high on the cost curve. That's the real problem - the simple old economic risk. But as long as corporations are prepared to take that risk, we ought to make sure the oil sands are a big part of the supply mix.
But don't the oil sands spawn very high carbon emissions?
The fact is if we want to reduce emissions, we need to dramatically reduce hydrocarbon consumption per capita in all parts of the world. The total emissions from Fort McMurray are about 3 per cent of Canada's CO2 emissions, compared with the coal-fired power generation sector, which would be about 10 per cent. The highway system of greater Toronto has much higher CO2 emissions that the entire oil sands operation. So how bad is the footprint?