CALGARY – As Canadians debate the merits of controversial west- and east-bound pipelines, a new study from Canada’s largest oil and gas industry group shows people trust university professors, their neighbours and environmental activists more than journalists and leaders of energy companies with information about oil and gas.

“Clearly there is a bias to the white lab coat, the person who is the thoughtful, independent researcher,” Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ vice-president, communications Jeff Gaulin said.

CAPP released the results of a wide-ranging survey Wednesday, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, that showed respondents’ attitudes toward various forms of energy, countries that produce energy, and the trustworthiness of energy information sources.

The study showed respondents from around the world placed the most trust in oil and gas information from university professors, with 69 per cent of respondents trusting them, 59 per cent feel the same way about scientists and engineers at oil and gas companies, while 56 per cent considered environmental activists trustworthy.

The results demonstrate how Canadians evaluate information amid debates about pipelines like Kinder Morgan’s $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion project or TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East project between Alberta and New Brunswick, Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Brat said.

“People are not evaluating the evidence, they’re analyzing the source of the evidence,” Brat said, adding the source of the evidence becomes more important in cases where Canadians are presented with competing or conflicting data.

Less than 45 per cent of respondents said they trusted journalists, industry associations or company CEOs as information sources on oil and gas issues. Political leaders ranked last with 37 per cent of respondents finding them trustworthy.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace, said the results confirmed previous studies done by public relations agencies like Edelman but added, “I’m kind of surprised that CAPP is releasing it.”

Gaulin said respondents from Canada showed a similar preference for university professors as sources of information but less of a preference for environmental activists.

“What we find is that, in Canada, people trust people like themselves. They trust their neighbour, their co-workers,” he said. “It’s hard for everybody to be fully informed on everything. People tend to defer their trust to people like them.”

The study was commissioned in part to identify markets where global customers were eager to sign long-term relationships with Canadian oil and gas producers, if they exported more of their product outside of the U.S.

The study showed, for example, that 69 per cent of respondents in Israel would buy more energy products from Canada, given the opportunity. Similarly, respondents in energy importing countries like India, South Africa, the U.K., Peru and China preferred to buy oil and gas products from Canada.

Gaulin acknowledged that oil companies compete on the basis of costs rather than country-of-origin but said, “We’ve heard from potential customers from India, China and Europe who say, ‘if you can get it here and we can have it long-term, that security of supply is worth something to us.’”

“We live in an uncertain world with an uncertain future,” Gaulin said, adding that long-term supply arrangements are important to countries as diplomatic and trade relationships change around the world.

This came into sharp focus this week after Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, a major natural gas exporter, closing ports and airspace to Qatari citizens and products, which could cause major disruptions to energy trade.

Gaulin said Canada’s energy trading relationship with the U.S. is also changing as American energy companies produce more oil and gas domestically. “The U.S. is our only client, our only customer, for oil and gas and as it takes on the appearance of more protectionist policies, we naturally have to think about who else out there are potential customers for us.”

Financial Post

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