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Enbridge President and CEO Greg Ebel in February.FXC/Handout

On stage at conferences, in speeches at Ottawa’s Rideau Club and in remarks to analysts and media, Greg Ebel has preached the natural gas gospel at every opportunity.

Not surprising, perhaps, for a guy who heads up a company that has bet big on the fuel.

Mr. Ebel, 59, became chief executive officer of Enbridge Inc. ENB-T earlier this year, in an unorthodox appointment: he was the Calgary-based pipeline operator’s chair before replacing long-serving CEO Al Monaco. He is now taking a company that had focused on doing one thing well for a very long time – pumping oil across the continent – and turning it into an energy infrastructure giant that operates in multiple sectors.

This week, nine months after assuming control, he repositioned Enbridge as North America’s largest natural gas distributor by spending US$9.4-billion to acquire three U.S. gas utilities. If the deal closes as expected next year, Enbridge will move 20 per cent of all the natural gas consumed in the U.S.

Listen to Mr. Ebel and you’ll often hear that Canada needs to take full advantage of its abundant supply of natural gas by attracting more investment. But he has said the country can do that only by fixing a regulatory system that impedes action, slows development and erodes investor confidence.

“The Germans, Japanese and South Koreans came to Canada looking for more energy, and we’ve turned them away,” he told the LNG 2023 conference in Vancouver in July. “What message does that send to our allies, trading partners and the developing world?”

Among the jurisdictions embracing natural gas investment are the U.S. states where the three utility companies Enbridge is buying operate: Ohio, North Carolina, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

“Positive jurisdictions,” Mr. Ebel called them during a news conference Wednesday. He added that they “have both regulators and policy-makers who see the utility – no pun intended – of having sustainable and affordable energy.”

As a teenager growing up in Orangeville, Ont., Mr. Ebel learned how business works by joining Junior Achievement, an organization that teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills to young people. In 2008, a year after moving to Houston for a previous job in the energy industry, he decided to give back by volunteering on the charity’s local board. Eventually, he became chair.

Houston is both a thriving energy hub and one of the poorest cities in America. One in 10 families there live below the poverty line.

Over the past four years, Mr. Ebel has played a key role in retooling the way Junior Achievement works in the region. He championed boosting programs offered in the city’s neediest neighbourhoods and adding new tasks for young participants. The early result has been far higher engagement in the communities that have the greatest need of business skills, according to Joseph Burke, the Houston-based president of Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas.

“Greg is an insightful, inspiring leader,” Mr. Burke said.

“You can’t transform an organization like Junior Achievement without being a skilled consensus builder, and that is one of Greg’s strengths.”

The concept of building Enbridge into a “three-legged stool” that supplies oil, natural gas and renewable energy reflects the evolving needs of its customers, Mr. Ebel told reporters on Wednesday. As an example, he pointed to disruptions in flows of Russian natural gas to Europe after the invasion of Ukraine. ”You only have to look at Europe’s problems with being overly reliant on one commodity to understand the wisdom of multiple energy sources,” he said.

Mr. Ebel’s move to reorient Enbridge toward natural gas is a bet that the fuel will play a crucial role in the world’s lower-carbon energy future. Part of the opportunity lies in replacing coal with gas, but he has said North American natural gas can also help alleviate energy poverty in the developing world.

Running a regulated utility like Enbridge requires a deft touch with politicians, and Mr. Ebel is qualified for that role. He graduated from York University, where he was a receiver on the school’s football team. He started his career working with Allan Gregg, CEO of Decima Research, doing polling for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government on issues such as free trade.

Mr. Ebel then went to work in government, first as a policy adviser on the privatizations of Air Canada and Petro Canada, then as chief of staff to Don Mazankowski, who was deputy prime minister and minister of finance.

In 1993, Mr. Ebel moved to Washington to work for the World Bank. Four years later, he began working at utilities, first with Westcoast Energy.

He joined Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. in 2007 as chief financial officer, and bought a home in the same neighbourhood as former U.S. president George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara. Spectra named him CEO two years later.

Mr. Ebel became chair of Enbridge after the company completed an acquisition of Spectra in 2017, in a $37-billion, all-stock transaction.

Now, in his first year as Enbridge’s CEO, Mr. Ebel has a task more daunting than any Junior Achievement pupil could imagine: building a three-legged stool that will support a good portion of North America’s economy.

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