Killing the energy industry cripples the tech sector

Federal inaction on the petroleum file damages corporate balance sheets, which in turn stalls investments in tech

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Bill WhitelawSomeone is planning to slowly kill Silicon Valley – to scrub from existence the companies and their employees making so much difference in the tech space.

Who in their right mind would countenance such a thing?

Who would even suggest killing initiatives like artificial intelligence and machine learning, and blockchain innovations. We know those cool buzzwords get politicians so jazzed they drool over doling out dough to anyone clever enough to pepper their utterances with the right terminology.

Of course, these tools and technologies are driving digital transformation of economies the world over. No one would tamper with such a compelling narrative (even if big tech has its own dark side).

Against the now crazily polarized backdrop that is Canada’s energy industry at the moment, many folks are set in their belief that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal cabinet are out to kill the oil and gas sector, one neglectful act and pacifying bromide at a time.

Such death talk may be stretching things a bit but the believers may not be far off the mark given the paucity of evidence that suggests otherwise.

But what if we reframed the narrative?

Because the oil and gas sector can legitimately argue that federal inaction is actually euthanizing, one drop at a time, a technology sector that just happens to produce a natural resource.

Oil and gas companies and their service providers are involved in artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain transactions. And these are just the tips of the digital iceberg. The sector has long embraced and invested in technology to make fundamental differences in the way hydrocarbons are produced – with a particular focus on cleaner and greener results.

Clearly, politicians for the most part are unaware of the high-tech advancements within the sector.

The cornucopia of tech and innovation initiatives range from fascinating advances in emissions and water management to drilling and completions – and on and on. Some of this gets occasionally glimpsed but for the most part, it remains out of sight and, therefore, out of (public and political) mind.

Federal inaction on the petroleum file damages corporate balance sheets, which in turn stalls investments in tech at a time when they are needed most.

Silicon Valley has birthed the idea that the world needs its technology intellect and horsepower. It has created a brand powerful enough to transcend the more deplorable actions of some of the big tech players.

But in oil and gas, we’ve failed for the most part at the tech narrative. That failure to connect our high-tech competencies to ordinary Canadians (and onward to their political leaders) manifests in their attitude toward us as a Jurassic Park industry.

If an Ontario citizen well acquainted with the high-tech centres in Kitchener-Waterloo and the Ottawa region could rally around the petroleum industry’s high-tech impact, they might have a different view of the myopic federal leadership that’s helping erode similar infrastructure in Alberta. That knowledge might even show up at the polling booth.

It’s increasingly apparent that the federal Liberals have no real understanding that they’re letting the life blood ebb out of the energy sector. And they have no sense of the right triage strategy.

The prime minister’s overwrought earnestness over the sector’s plight is considered crocodile tears by an increasing number of westerners. But what if Trudeau and caucus actually grasped that they’re unwittingly euthanizing a technology industry – a high-tech sector that’s investing in itself and disrupting itself as effectively as any Silicon Valley tech company?  

It’s too melodramatic and alarmist to suggest it’s the prime minister’s plan to kill the sector. But there’s a difference, of course, between killing something and letting it die. Either way, the result is the same.

Perhaps it’s time for Trudeau to put on a hard hat and shift some pipe.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

energy industry tech sector

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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