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Patience running short for federal energy industry aid, Alberta minister says

Keystone XL pipeline moves forward with Alberta gov’t investment
WATCH ABOVE: As the world tries to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, and oil prices plummet, the Alberta government is investing more than $1 billion USD into the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project. As Heather Yourex-West reports, Alberta is banking on Keystone as a much-needed lifeline for the future.

Patience in Alberta is wearing thin for a promised aid package from the federal government for the oil and gas sector, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Tuesday.

The industry doesn’t want a bailout, but instead help to cope with short-term liquidity problems caused by the plunge in global oil prices that has forced cuts in investment plans and activity levels, she said in a speech at the annual Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers symposium.

“It’s taken too long,” the minister said.

“I don’t think that means the package is not coming. I think it just means it’s complicated. But it needs to come and it needs to come soon because these companies are struggling.”

READ MORE: Feds torn between moving toward cleaner energy or bailing out oil and gas sector

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Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last month aid for the oil sector was “hours, potentially days” away, but his department confirmed Tuesday there’s still no timeline for its release.

In an open letter on Monday, the Calgary-based oilfield services sector called for Ottawa to introduce a payroll relief plan and suggested it purchase their accounts receivable at a discount to give them instant cash flow to preserve jobs.

Oil and gas sector pens open letter to Canadians asking for financial help
Oil and gas sector pens open letter to Canadians asking for financial help

The letter signed by 13 CEOs said the federal government could collect those debts at a profit when the crisis is over.

READ MORE: Oil and gas industry CEOs pen open letter to Ottawa asking for financial help

The annual CAPP conference, held in Toronto for the past few years, is being presented as an online conference for the first time this year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Global oil prices have plunged over the past month as demand has fallen because of the coronavirus at the same time that a market war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has created a flood of cheap barrels of oil.

Savage said she will participate by phone in an “OPEC-plus-plus” meeting on Thursday that could include discussion of broadening production quotas beyond OPEC and Russia to include the United States, the world’s largest producer, and Canada.

Restricting production on a global scale to lift prices makes a lot of sense, Alex Pourbaix, CEO of oilsands producer Cenovus Energy Inc., said during the conference. Cenovus has also supported the Alberta government’s ongoing oil curtailment program.

“People can club each other over the head for the next six months with massive impact to the profitability of the industry or the viability of the industry, or we can take a look at doing something collaboratively with other producing regions to temporarily reduce production and avoid a massive destruction of value,” he said.

“That strikes me as a reasonably prudent thing to do.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Oil prices, jobs slashed as global coronavirus spread continues

Despite the current price environment, CAPP CEO Tim McMillan said there’s a great deal of optimism in the energy sector because three key export pipelines — the Trans Mountain expansion, the Line 3 replacement and Keystone XL — are in various stages of construction.

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“These three projects will significantly advance Canada’s ability to meet global markets with our crude oil,” he said.

He added: “The Canadian oil and gas industry was the economic engine that pulled Canada out of the great recession of 2008 and we can do it again.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt discusses Alberta’s purchase of part of Keystone XL
Political scientist Duane Bratt discusses Alberta’s purchase of part of Keystone XL

Last week, Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. announced it would go ahead with its long-delayed US$8-billion Keystone XL Pipeline, backed by about C$1.5 billion in equity investment by the Alberta government, along with a provincial loan guarantee.

The additional of new pipeline capacity won’t affect the profitability of Enbridge Inc.’s Mainline oil export pipeline system, CEO Al Monaco said at the conference.