Fresh off a three-day tour of the oilpatch in southeast Saskatchewan in the previous week, Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre found herself in Estevan on Sept. 7, speaking to the Estevan Oilfield Technical Society at a luncheon at the Days Inn. Roughly 80 people came to hear her. The minister’s brief remarks were followed by a lively questions period.
“You are the people who make the industry what it is, and you keep our economy growing,” Eyre said, adding. “I don’t have to tell you, when we’re talking about investment prospects in this province, we’re often talking about resource development.
“Today, oil and gas production is responsible for an estimated 15 per cent of our provincial GDP (gross domestic product). In Canada, I read this the other day, the oil and gas sector accounts for seven per cent of Canada’s nominal GDP. Energy stocks make up 20 per cent of the SMP TSX composite index.
Eyre said, “So directly, and indirectly, and again, no news to you, the sector supports tens of thousands of jobs.
“Recently, Saskatchewan’s petroleum sector has shown clear and continued signs of growth and of activity. The value of our oil production for 2017 was $9.2 billion, a significant increase from $6.9 billion in 2016. Last year there was an estimated $4 billion of investment in new exploration and development, which is an increase of 42 per cent, here in Saskatchewan, from the previous year.
“The oil and gas industry will continue to represent a major source of economic strength in our province, and we can look forward to more success in what continues to be a very, very resilient sector.”
She pointed out that Saskatchewan conventional oil production has remained relatively stable since 2013, while Alberta’s conventional production has dropped 23 per cent.
Eyre said that oil and gas workers tell her, every chance they get, “They’re tired of being seen by critics, by the federal government, as liabilities, because you are not that, and they are not that, to us, ever. It’s quite the opposite. We understand that resource development will always have a more meaningful place, and role, in the future of this province, and that our more, and innovative, and competitive resource companies and sector are well-positioned to meet that future.”
The province is committed to improve competitiveness and increase investment in Saskatchewan. A big threat to that is the continued lack of access to pipelines to tidewater. “We also face regulatory and policy resistance from the federal government on the carbon tax, on the proposed clean fuel standard, and on Bill C-69. And together, these three federal initiatives pose an unprecedented threat to competitiveness in this country, and this province,” she said.
Bill C-69 could add years to environmental assessments, reduce transparency, and increase uncertainty to project development, she pointed out.
In the question and answer period, one person who used to work in regulatory applications for big pipelines said the industry has an image problem, and asked what the government would do in regards to an education campaign. “If a lot of people actually understood what went into an (National Energy Board) environmental assessment, they’d be very surprised,” the questioner pointed out.
Eyre responded that she’d had similar discussions with a local oil company earlier that day. Reflecting on what is taught in the education system, she said she is hearing that people they are often tired of hearing what they perceive to be a bias against energy and resources and how it is presented.
She said there’s interest into what Alberta is doing with its curriculum. “It goes to perceptions out there that are really hard to knock if the media doesn’t report on certain things, and there are so many examples of that,” Eyre said, noting frustration. “I truly, in my heart, am a champion for this sector.”
Asked where the Saskatchewan government stands on getting the defunct Energy East pipeline project going again, Eyre said a hopeful sign is that things can change pretty quickly in politics, and there was a massive shift in Ontario with the election or new-premier Rob Ford, who is against the carbon tax.
“In terms of the fate of Energy East, clearly, from Saskatchewan’s perspective, what happened was a tragedy, nothing short of, from an economic perspective,” she said.
With an election coming up in Quebec, and a sea change in Ontario, she said, “Maybe there are never any completely shut doors, and that’s the one hopeful thing we have in this.”
With a question asking why Canada is using Saudi oil, she responded, “We can certainly agree Canadian oil is ethical, and there’s puzzlement on continuing to import from countries with less than stellar reputations. Some of that hypocrisy, even in terms of the debate over Bill C-69, people are saying some of the things that will be considered under Bill C-69 are hypocritical in light of the standards that you would see in other countries, if a Bill C-69 were imposed there. It’s a double standard. Trying to do our best to shine a light is important.”
Asked about the accessibility of additional carbon dioxide for more enhanced oil recovery, and the fact North Dakota is aiming to do a lot of that in the future, but SaskPower has decided not to go ahead with it on Boundary Dam Units 4 and 5, she replied, “We look at North Dakota very carefully, in terms of what we’re doing.
“All I can say is we’re looking at some of the things North Dakota has done, and is doing, and we’re working on some of that in terms of what we’ll be able to do.”