Post Carbon Toronto's IEA letter project

PCT members are probably aware of the series of articles which appeared in The Guardian in November 2009. In case anyone missed the stories, a whistleblower from the International Energy Agency (IEA) informed The Guardian that, under pressure from the United States, the summary reports being issued by the IEA had been systematically skewed to show more global oil supplies (and a more distant date for “peak”) than was justified by the information being received (please see our post “PCT press release on IEA over-estimation of oil reserves”). Various motives for this deception were considered, including a desire not to trigger instability on global markets,  maintain stock prices, etc (it may be recalled when Shell restated its reserves and lowered its estimates in 2004, the stock price dropped by 25% and the Chairman of the Board was ousted).

The current date for peak is 2020, and many governments, the Canadian government included, are using that date in their planning for peak oil (assuming they are doing any planning).

Post Carbon Toronto wishes that Canadian governments take note of this systemic deception and at the very least undertake an independent study of the issue, the conclusions of which could then be applied towards developing a national plan.

Below is an example of one letter written by Shane Mulligan, a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Global Governance Research.

This is just an example – each person who writes should write their own letter, expressing their own concern about this issue. Letter campaigns in which a number of virtually identical letters are received on a topic are normally not very effective; within government they are seen for what they are – followers/members of an organization, complying with the wishes of the organization’s leadership, but not necessarily holding the opinion expressed themselves.

However, a large number of well thought out individual letters on a common topic can have an impact.

The Energy Supplies Emergency Act: Who’s to say when there’s an emergency?

Shane Mulligan

November 25, 2009

Dear Minister and Deputy Minister,

This note emerges from my recent inquiries regarding Canada’s Energy Supplies Emergency Act R.S., 1985, c. E-9, which comes under the mandate of the Minister of Natural Resources. The Act states its purpose as being “to provide a means to conserve the supplies of energy within Canada during periods of national emergency caused by shortages or market disturbances affecting the national security and welfare and the economic stability of Canada”.[1] The Act (Sec. 3) establishes an Energy Supplies Allocation Board, which has the authority to recommend seconding to itself staff and resources from other government departments in order to allocate energy (and especially petroleum) supplies during any declared emergency resulting from energy shortages in Canada. The declaration of an energy emergency is apparently to be instigated by the Minister of Natural Resources, but will only take effect once approved by the Governor in Council.

I ran across this statute while trying to find a body in Canada’s government that should be alerted to the International Energy Agency (IEA) whistleblower statements of early November 2009, as reported in the Guardian.[2] The report suggests that the IEA has systematically exaggerated projections of future global oil supply, under pressure from the USA, in particular. At least one industry agency, the UK Industry Task Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security, demanded an “urgent” review of the British Government’s preparations for addressing a peak in global oil production.[3]

A call from Paul Trueman, Chair of Post Carbon Toronto, to contact our MPs and request their response to these reports, provided a stimulus for me to investigate what provisions already existed (if any) for responding to such news. The Energy Supplies Allocation Board showed up as a body that had a mandate to (in a case of an energy emergency) assist in determining rationing and allocation of energy resources, in conjunction with the sitting Government. In addition, the Act (Sec 11(1)) states that “during any period in which the Board is not required to administer any mandatory allocation program or rationing program under this Act, it shall prepare, review and maintain contingency plans in readiness to exercise such powers and perform such duties as may be conferred or imposed on it pursuant to this Act.” Section 11(2) is even more specific on the Board’s duties: “(2) The Board shall study and keep under review all matters relevant to a full understanding of the international petroleum supply situation and shall from time to time report thereon to the Minister of Natural Resources together with such recommendations as appear to the Board to be appropriate and relevant to ensuring that Canada is fully prepared to meet any petroleum supply emergency with well prepared and timely plans for action.”

Well, this seemed the place to send my message. Surely such a board, with the mandate to “study and keep under review all matters relevant to a full understanding of the international petroleum supply situation”, would be interested in following up the IEA whistleblower claims? This especially in light of the increasing number of government agencies, research groups, and corporate voices warning of an impending peak in global oil production. But the ESAB has virtually no web presence, and certainly no online reports of meetings or publications. Thus, being interested in the said reports that were to be submitted “from time to time” to the MNR, I inquired of Yvonne Robinson, the Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator, to ask were these reports publicly available.

Yvonne kindly forwarded my query to the Records Manager of the Energy Sector, who asked of another party, who sent it forward to another, and another, and another… until finally the query returned from Yvonne with the following message attached:

ESAB is a ‘virtual Board” that is struck only once the Governor-in-Council invokes the Energy Supplies Emergency Act.  This would take place only in the case of an oil shortage causing a National Emergency.  Since the Board does not meet in non-emergency situations, there are no on-going studies.  Any reports would have been generated during a crisis so that the Board would have the information to carry out its mandate – there are no reports generated in an non-emergency situation.

If the individual is looking for specific oil market studies, then she
could contact PRB [Petroleum Resources Branch] directly.

So a senior NRCan official (who may remain nameless for the current purpose) tells me that the Act was only to come into force upon a declared energy supply-related emergency. Yet, as I replied to Yvonne, it made little sense to prepare reports and plans for an emergency only once an emergency was already underway. (It is perhaps like training for CPR while your partner is undergoing cardiac arrest.) “In line with the notion of a “virtual Board”,” I wrote”, “I can see that as per Section 15 of the Act, any actual Allocation program, and any decisions to be made with regard to it, become operative only upon declaration of an emergency by the GiC.” I continued:

“But the Act states (in fairly plain English) that the Board has duties even in the absence of an emergency. First, the Board *exists* as per the Act: Section 3 “hereby established” the Board (and of course it has members, and a Chair). And as per the mandate of the Board, Section 11(1 and 2) of the Act, it would seem the Board is obligated to prepare and produce reports pertaining to the international petroleum situation, as well as to prepare contingency plans in the event of a declared energy emergency.

“Otherwise, how is the Board to “maintain its readiness to exercise its powers” once an emergency is declared? If the Board is not preparing readiness plans for an energy emergency, it cannot possibly be ready to act when there is an emergency. That preparedness seems to me the principal reasoning behind the Act!”

The author of the reply I had received responded to my invitation to talk on the phone, and called me the next morning. He insisted that the Act was not “invoked” until such time as the MNR declared an energy emergency, and that the deputy Minister could call the Board to convene. He also said the Board did not have meetings. Instead, he said the reporting and preparedness functions that the ESEA dictates were actually undertaken by the Oil Market Analysis Groups within NRCan. As such, he suggested, the Oil Markets Group performed a “secretariat” function for the Board, which would provide it with the information it needed to conduct its responsibilities upon declaration of an energy emergency.

Still not satisfied with the discrepancy between the Act as written and the interpretation of NRCan, I soon found that the Act is indeed “in force”, according to the Canadian Legal Information Institute.[4] As far as I can tell, this means not only that one senior MNR official is seriously misinformed on the laws of Canada for which your Ministry is responsible, but that by law the ESAB should be meeting, preparing plans and delivering reports to the MNR “from time to time”. The MNR official with whom I spoke implied that the Board has, in effect, never met. (He actually stated that an energy emergency has “never” been declared, and that the Board convenes “only in the event of an emergency”.) Upon further inquiry by email, he confirmed that the board had met in past, the last time in 1993. For reference, the Act states the penalty for willfully contravening the Act as $1000 a day for the person deemed responsible. In not convening the Board, is the Deputy Minister of MNR (or perhaps her understudies) in willful contravention of the Act?

More importantly, in terms of my initial concerns, is the question of whether there is in fact any official body in Canada that is qualified to assess the global petroleum situation and is actually conducting analysis on Canada’s energy security in light of that information. To do so would be especially prudent in light of the claims that IEA numbers are effectively fraudulent, while still being widely held as “authoritative” in terms of developing policy. With many others, I am of the opinion that a global energy emergency has begun, and may get substantially more difficult to deal with the longer we wait to act.

Thus I would request your attention to the following questions:

1)      Has the ESAB, and in particular its ex officio Chair, the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, failed to uphold the Act by not monitoring the global energy situation and submitting reports “from time to time”?

2)      In light of the failure of the ESAB to convene and report to MNR, what mechanisms has the Canadian Government for monitoring and assessing our vulnerability – in economic, social, public health and security terms – to a global peak and decline in petroleum production?

3)      In light of the IEA whistleblowers’ claims, will the MNR recommend to the Government of Canada that it immediately seek to convene a task force to study the likelihood of a global oil production peak and to consider an appropriate national response, especially in terms of community preparedness?

Your respective attention to these matters is appreciated. I look forward to your replies, and to being notified of any further actions taken in response to this query.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Shane Mulligan
Centre for Global Governance Research
University of Waterloo
200 University Ave. West
Waterloo , ON
N2L 3G1

smulliga@uwaterloo.ca


[1] http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/E-9/page-1.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/peak-oil-international-energy-agency

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/nov/15/oil-industry-peak-oil-projections

[4] http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/rsc-1985-c-e-9/latest/rsc-1985-c-e-9.html

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