Pipelines and Liberty
Published in October, 2017
Yes, you can support energy transport and keep your property rights, too
By Tim Moen
Affordable, reliable energy has been one of the greatest liberating forces in human history. Oil and other fossil fuels have made life immeasurably better for much of mankind. We live longer and enjoy greater prosperity because of oil and those who drill it, ship it and refine it.
Despite this, when I was asked at an all-candidates debate while running for office in Fort McMurray representing the Libertarian Party of Canada whether I was “pro-pipelines or anti-pipelines,” I wasn't able to provide a definitive answer.
Naturally I am a proponent of fossil fuels and pipelines. My views are a matter of public record. I made international news when I called out musician Neil Young on his hypocrisy toward the oil sands given his affluent, energy-intensive Hollywood lifestyle. I protested in front of the White House promoting ethical Canadian oil over OPEC conflict oil. I’m producing a film that promotes Fort McMurray and the oil sands.
But while I support the oil industry and pipelines, I am more concerned with the protection of property rights. So the question should not be whether or not one is supportive of pipelines, but whether or not the oil and pipeline industry can coexist with property rights.
Property comes into existence when you mix your labour with an unowned resource. When you pick fruit to eat, hunt bison, plough a field, build a house or fabricate a pipeline, you are creating property. Property rights led to the division of labour, free markets, industrialization, the ability to extract and use fossil fuels, and a dramatic rise in the length and quality of human life. Property rights are essential to individual rights, and it is appropriate for government to protect these rights through laws and policy.
History teaches us those societies that respect property rights flourish and those that don’t end in catastrophe. This message, however, has been lost on many people, especially those in power. Listen to the collectivist rhetoric. People often refer to resources as “our” natural resources, belonging to Albertans, or all Canadians.
In actual fact, “we” don’t own anything unless “we” actually do the work of going out and getting it, creating it or trading for it.
While it is true that the energy sector is entitled to its property, it is also true that landowners have the same rights. Specifically, they have a right to exclude pipelines from crossing their property.
When the desires of pipeline companies conflict with the desires of landowners, the government intervenes by forcing landowners to relinquish their property rights in exchange for compensation for the trespass and lost use of their property. This imperfect solution is intended to promote the energy sector but it comes at the cost of landowner property rights.
A better solution would see pipeline companies negotiate with landowners privately to access their property and come to terms on compensation. While some might argue this will slow down pipeline production, given the recent difficulties the industry has faced getting “stakeholder” and government approval I am confident private negotiations that respect property rights are ultimately more practical for industry.
I encourage those in the energy sector to promote property rights at every opportunity. If the state is justified in expropriating land on behalf of an energy company today then it is justified in expropriating an energy company on behalf of environmentalists tomorrow. You can be a hero to landowners and protect your long-term interests, or you can profit in the here and now by using government force and undermining the property-rights framework that supports you.
Back to the original question: Am I “pro” or “anti” pipelines? Like any good politician I danced around the question, not because I was avoiding the question but because I disagreed with the very premise that a politician ought to have an opinion about such matters. Pipelines are property, just like much of the land they cross. The role of government is to protect property, not to impose an agenda and violate rights.
The government shouldn’t expropriate land from a rancher, nor should it prohibit a pipeline from being built just because Neil Young and his crowd don’t like it.
Tim Moen ran for prime minister as leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada in the last federal election. He was raised on a northern Alberta farm and is a former fire fighter/paramedic from Fort McMurray, a filmmaker, a father, speaker, businessman and publisher of WesternStandard.ca