The BusinessMakers Radio Show

Episode #459: Russ Girling

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Capper: I'm very pleased to have with me now as my guest Russ Girling, the CEO of Trans Canada Corporation; Russ, welcome to the Energy Leader Series.

Girling: Thanks Russ, appreciate the opportunity.

Capper: So you've been working on a pipeline for a while, are you ever going to finish that thing?

Girling: Yes we are. You need a pipeline from growing production to markets that need it and the safest way is with a pipeline; sometimes building that pipeline just takes longer than you hope but the marketplace will dictate whether the pipeline gets built and this marketplace wants this pipeline.

Capper: Did you have any precursor vision that you were going to run into the kind of problem that you ran into that you don't deserve to run into.

Girling: No, not at all. We permitted our original Keystone project in about, you know, 650 or so days - I think it was 21 months - that was all of the same issues got raised during that regulatory process that got raised during this regulatory process, whether that be GHG emission, pipeline safety and we dealt with all of those issues in that, you know, that tighter time frame. We're now, you know, six and a half - or five and a half years later on a very similar question is - is it in the U.S. national interest to cross the border with Canadian gas or with Canadian oil and I don't think the issues have changed very much; so we weren't ready for this

Capper: Well, you've handled it in my opinion like in a first class manner. It's kind of interesting, North American production right now, the whole transformation, I mean, with what's happening in Mexico, what's happened in Canada and our participation together, I mean it's a North American endeavor and you're a North American company.

Girling: Yeah, I'm pretty excited about what's going on in North America. There's has been a North American free trade agreement in place for years, I believe the people are just starting to see, you know, the opportunities within the energy space within, you know, that - the confines of that agreement; the lower 48 producing substantially more, you know, shale gas than it's ever going to use. Mexico having driven its strategy historically off of LNG imports, now looking to the lower 48 as an import; looking, you know, with their energy reforms to bring, you know, U.S. and Canadian technology and players into their industry to help, you know, further their production efforts.

Trade between these countries there's an opportunity to be self sufficient which I think, you know, is the biggest opportunity, you know, this continent has seen in, you know, in my lifetime, um, where, you know, we could be, you know, energy self sufficient, we could be a net exporter of energy and you think of the geopolitical changes that that would cause globally; I mean all positive for this continent and it's a huge opportunity.

Capper: Absolutely. And you've been doing quite a bit of business south of the Canadian-American border for quite some time; you have a lot of pipeline mileage in the U.S. today, right?

Girling: Yeah we're one of the larger pipeline gas pipeline players in the U.S. We've been operating with, you know, as Trans Canada or as our predecessor companies for, you know, probably about 50 years. Um, I've personally been involved in projects in the U.S. my whole career and you know, I've - in the early parts of my career I - I was on the road, you know, selling expansions and, uh, and selling natural gas actually in places like Omaha. I remember staying in the Marriott hotel in the Omaha - Omaha, you know, 25 years ago and driving through the corn fields selling natural gas to fertilizer manufacturers. Um, as you - as you mentioned earlier the relationship - the energy relationship between our 2 nations is - has always been solid and in my career I've never actually, you know, thought that there was a border between the 2 nations when it came - came to energy.

Capper: There's no question that today in the United States that we have a dysfunctional government, uh, totally polarized, uh, which is certainly what you're running into top to bottom; when you look at the environmental thing too it's so obvious that you were just selected as to be the issue. But it seems to me that I see just recently perhaps some fractions in the environmentalist; that some are saying wait a minute, maybe we're not choosing the right issue. Have you heard that, are you aware of that?

Girling: Well I think that we've said all along that, you know, we understand the, you know, the whole notion of moving to a less carbon intensive energy future, conservation, emissionless energy - all of those transitions make sense and what most people don't know about our company is we're actually a large power company as well. We're the largest wind farm operator in Maine we're the largest wind farm operator in Quebec, we're building 9 solar plants in Ontario, we own the largest nuclear plant in the world; we understand emissionless energy but I think that, you know, reality is, is that we're going to need all forms of energy and I think that, you know, as I sort of see the dialog maturing, people are understanding that there's a place for each of these energy sources in the mix and that we have to be responsible about how we develop every one of them.

And the more the discussion matures, the more I see those facts are starting to come out and people coming to the realization of yeah, we still need oil you know, transportation fuel - that's what fuels our airplanes and our cars. And building a windmill doesn't replace liquid hydrocarbons, that just doesn't occur. So I think that maturity is coming into the dialog and I'm very encouraged by that.

Capper: I read recently on the web where you even would take incoming calls from environmentalists and, uh, even there it sounded like you were doing and saying the right thing and the people that were reasonable you kind of gave them some information they didn't know and maybe changed their opinion and many you didn't; do you do that anymore?

Girling: Yeah, as it, the calls aren't as voluminous as they once were. There was a call to action by a certain environmental group that provided my phone number and that sort of stuff and, you know, internally the our security and Operations folks asked if I wanted to change my number and I said no, we'll just let the ring in. And, yeah, after work I would answer the phone, you know, at 6:00 on, you know, on a Friday afternoon and I'd take a few of these calls and it's really just so I can understand. Like where are people coming from? Why would they take the time out of their day to make a phone call to me?

It was a pretty scripted, you know, call but at the same time you could have a dialog with them and what I found is exactly what just I said earlier is once you have the dialog with people about, you know, do you own a car? Yes. Do you know where the oil comes from that goes in that car? Not really. And you have that dialog and I think that they empathize I think on the same front as me and I have children and I wanted to leave the earth in a better, situation than the way I found it, we all do and that we're all in this game together.

And what I found is that, you know, I wouldn't say, you know, I convinced a lot of people but, you know, for me, you know, encouraging one or two - because that's kind of the way it works is if - you know, if they go back to, you know, those folks that sent them that information and say well you know, we kind of got duped here, this isn't quite accurate and I feel kind of silly for having made this phone call; and they tell somebody else, they tell somebody else, that's the way it works is getting facts out.

Capper: Well Russ, I really appreciate you giving us some of your time.

Girling: Thanks for the opportunity.

Capper: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Russ Girling, the CEO of Trans Canada Corporation.