Jason Kenney looks like another political flim-flam artist promising oilpatch jobs in face of automation

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      Conservative politicians like to portray their left-leaning opponents as economic incompetents who will cost voters their jobs.

      This approach has elected many premiers, a few prime ministers, and countless mayors and councillors across Canada.

      And so it went in Alberta, with United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney cruising to victory on the mantra of "jobs, economy, pipelines".

      He pledged to build an Alberta that's "strong and free".

      But the sloganeering about "jobs, economy, pipelines" conveys the impression that expanding the oil industry will necessarily create a bounty of employment.

      However, that overlooks the impact of automation on the energy sector.

      Just as in the retail, transportation, and manufacturing industries, technological innovation is killing jobs in the oil industry.

      But Kenney, just like so many other right-wing politicians, refuses to acknowledge this in any meaningful way.

      Jason Kenney shared a laugh with another big supporter of fossil fuels, former B.C. premier Christy Clark, at a Vancouver Vaisakhi parade.
      Charlie Smith

      Houston can't grow many jobs in this industry

      One of the centres of America's oil industry is Houston, which is the largest city in Texas. It's kind of like Calgary, which is the headquarters of Canada's petroleum giants.

      In February, the Greater Houston Partnership forecast that fewer than 2,000 of the 71,000 anticipated new jobs this year will be created in the oil and gas sector.

      Why so little even as the industry is enjoying a rebound with higher oil prices?

      It's because of the development of more efficient technologies, according to Cindy Taylor, president and CEO of Oil States International.

      “There will be employment gains, but we can’t forget we are doing more with less,” Taylor told the city's Community Impact Newspaper. “This is not an issue unique to energy by any means. We are all talking about how do we repurpose our workforce to optimize what we have available with digital technology.”

      The city's Community Impact Newspaper also reported that 86,000 energy industry jobs were lost in the 2014 downturn in Houston—and only 24,400 have been recovered.

      More than three times as many jobs are expected to be created this year in both the manufacturing and restaurant industries in Greater Houston. More than four times as many jobs will be created in both construction and health care.

      Administrative support and waste management will see four times the job growth of oil and gas in Greater Houston. Professional, scientific, and technical services will generate nearly four times as many jobs in the area.

      If laid-off energy industry workers in Alberta think they'll be back working on the rigs because of the election of Jason Kenney's party, they're likely deluded.

      That's because if Houston can't increase employment in this sector after oil prices have risen nearly $30 per barrel since January 2016, it's probably not going to occur in Alberta.

      Especially when you consider that there's no deep discount in the U.S. on West Texas Intermediate crude, unlike with Western Canadian Select crude.

      Google pledges to "do no evil"—but one prominent scientist worries that its partnerships with the fossil-fuel sector could be bringing the world closer to Climate Armageddon.

      Tech giants promote automation

      Gizmodo writer Brian Merchant has devoted a fair amount of time researching the impact of automation on the energy industry.

      In an article entitled "Automation Is Coming for the Oil Jobs, Too", he noted that the usual boom-and-bust-and-boom cycle has not resulted in the growth of jobs this time around. He linked this to "a $47-billion effort to digitize parts of oil production".

      In another article, "How Google, Microsoft, and Big Tech Are Automating the Climate Crisis", Merchant highlighted the impact of a joint venture between Rockwell Automation and Schlumberger Limited called Sensia.

      It was created to "advance digital technology and automation in the oilfield", according to the Houston Chronicle.

      "It’s part of a growing trend that sees major tech companies teaming with oil giants to use automation, AI, and big data services to enhance oil exploration, extraction, and production," Merchant added.

      Tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon like to portray themselves as climate-friendly and progressive corporations.

      But Merchant has revealed that they are also deeply involved in helping fossil-fuel companies extract more oil and gas with fewer employees.

      Google and Amazon even have their own oil and gas divisions. The article noted that this troubled one of North America's leading climate scientists, Michael Mann of Penn State University.

      "So, Google is using machine learning to find more oil reserves both above and below the seas," Merchant reported, "its data services are streamlining and automating extant oilfield operations, and it is helping oil companies find ways to trim costs and compete with clean energy upstarts." 

      In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump promised unemployed coal-industry workers that he was going to revive their industry, bringing back their jobs.

      That was a lie.

      And in the 2019 Alberta election, another populist right winger, Jason Kenney, conveyed the impression that he was going to kick-start the energy industry, bringing back an untold number jobs for laid-off oilpatch workers.

      It goes to show that flim-flam artistry will always help a politician get elected.