Current State and Future of National Energy Data

House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources
feat. Kevin Birn
May 1, 2018


Opening Statement

Dear Committee members,

It is a pleasure and an honour to be here today to discuss this important study into the state and future of Canadian energy data.  My only regret is that I am unable to join you in person in Ottawa. 

I work at IHS Markit, an international data, analytics, and insight company.  IHS Markit works with governments and industries around the world to help them make informed decisions.

We service sectors across the economy including finance, automotive, aerospace, defense, maritime, technology, geopolitical risk, and energy, which includes power, gas, renewables, oil and climate change.

IHS Markit has a strong presence in the Canadian market with over 400 colleagues. Our two primary offices are located in the Toronto area, focused on financial services and automotives and in Calgary, focused on financial services and energy.

I am based in our Calgary office where I lead our western Canadian oil market research.  We make extensive use of Canadian energy and commodity data to deliver insight and analytics to our clients.  We also, through a unique service to IHS Markit, make public some of our research associated with the development of the Canadian oil sands. 

My focus is on supply and demand fundamentals of Canadian oil and its role in the global oil market.  It is from this perspective I will share some thoughts that I hope you will find relevant to your work.

We believe that considerable Canadian energy data does exist.  However, it is often dispersed amongst federal and provincial governments, departments, Ministries, agencies and regulators.

This complex web of sources can make it difficult to locate relevant data, to understand what data is available, and to interpret these data.  This can lead to confusion and misinterpretation.

Having data is one thing, understanding and using the data is another.  This requires expertise to be able to understand data, appreciate any limitations and identify any errors or gaps.

Much of this expertise has been taken on at the provincial level who collect different data for different purposes. 

This will likely always be the case because provinces have their own interests in these data they collect.  Some reasons include: royalty purposes, regulatory processes, and environmental assessment and monitoring.

Some provincial data sets are very robust, such as the Alberta Energy Regulatory which makes much of Canada’s upstream data available.

However, there are different priorities between regions.  What one regions collects another may not, or may be presented in a different way which can cause alignment issues between regions.  These issues can generally be overcome but also complicates accessibility for the average Canadian.

Duplication of provincial data by the federal government may be counterproductive. This has the potential to lead to further alignment issues between series and/or confusion should multiple series exist.

As for the data itself, today, federally the key data sources we use in my shop are Statistics Canada and the National Energy Board.  Provincially major sources of data are the Alberta Energy Regulator, Government of Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the Newfoundland offshore board.

Over time, the availability of some of these federal data has declined, particularly around natural gas liquids, refined product, and interprovincial transfers. 

It is also important to acknowledge that accessibility of some data has also improved.  For example, the National Energy Board has expanded coverage or made accessible greater detail on crude-by-rail and pipeline flows.

Generally, the best way to view Canadian hydrocarbon data is that we have, through a network of various actors, a pretty good understanding of what is produced, and what is exported.  Where we see gaps is what we consume, and how it comes and goes within Canada.

Recognizing this patchwork of actors, there is a possible role for a national aggregator.  One that recognizes the importance and interest of the provincial governments in having expertise in collecting key data sets, but also in helping with alignment. Moreover, alignment can help identify future data needs and ensure consistent methods are established in more nascent regions.

It is important to underscore that data gathering is only one factor. The other two factors are expertise and accessibility.

There is a need to understand these data, the uses, limitations, errors, and gaps is critical.  At the federal level some of this expertise already exists with the National Energy Board and Natural Resources Canada and Statistics Canada.

The last component is the data needs to be accessible not only to researchers and academics but to the public. 

In this regard, and others, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), is often cited.

Over time, the US EIA has increased is customer services, developing analytical tools, providing interpretations of the data, and developing user friendly interfaces.

The US EIA also provides national and international energy outlooks and will respond to congress to provide independent analysis on key questions—something that could be of value in our currently fractious energy and climate conversations. 

Key to the US EIA has been their administrator’s ongoing pledge of impartiality.  The currency of data and insight is credibility and thus unbiased because often data may not agree with one’s opinion.

Part of the process of these sessions, as was provided in the material by the clerk, is to make recommendations.  I will take this opportunity to do so now, though I may have indirectly done so thus far.

First and foremost, I encourage you to seek out both the sitting and former US EIA administrators. I have found them to be a wealth of knowledge and they have incredible history and expertise that would be of use to you.

Secondly.  There is value working with federal and provincial agencies to align data series, identify data gaps (and there are gaps) and to interpret these data.

Third.  The focus needs to be broader than data, it needs to include consideration of the expertise required, and for making data accessible.

Fourth.  It (data administrator) needs to be impartial to ensure the data and its interpretations are credible.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.  This ends the portion of my prepared remarks.

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