Williston Basin Conference to be reinvigorated this year, says PTRC president and CEO

Focus on all of Saskatchewan, not just Williston Basin

Regina – Dan MacLean was just a few days into his new job as president and CEO of the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) when he attended the 2017 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Regina, put on by that organization.

The former CEO of Tundra Oil and Gas, Manitoba’s largest oil producer, was somewhat disappointed, and small wonder why. The show took place when the oilpatch was several years into a harsh downturn, and there was little light on the horizon at the time. Pipeline News was reporting around that time how the mood of the industry was near its lowest point.

The following year, MacLean attended the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference (WBPC) in Bismarck, N.D., and was impressed with the vibrancy and energy he saw there. That was an energy he wanted to bring back, and in 2019, his mission is to reinvigorate the conference in Saskatchewan. It will be held in Regina at the Delta Hotels Marriott on May 28-29.

The speakers include Premier Scott Moe at a VIP dinner the night before the main event. During the conference speakers and panelists will include former Premier Brad Wall, Petroleum Services Association of Canada president Gary Mar, former Manitoba Premier and Canada’s former ambassador the to the United States Gary Doer, Allan Fogwell of the Canadian Energy Research Institute, Martha Hall Findlay of the Canada West Foundation, Craig Lothian of Keystone Group, among many others. The main conference reception on the night of May 28th, in addition to great foot and entertainment at the Regina Casino Show Lounge, will feature a silent auction to raise funds for STARS air ambulance

Mike Marsh, president and CEO of SaskPower will talk about the changing energy mix for Saskatchewan. Ken From, president and CEO of SaskEnergy will talk about natural gas issues. There will be a panel on investment, and two panels on technology.

“The people we are targeting to come to this are business leaders,” MacLean said.

“The industry has changed dramatically. The issues and concerns from ten years ago are not going to be the same issues and concerns for the next ten years. The emphasis on things is going to amplify environmentally related issues. The regulations the industry is going to be operating under are going to tighten up and be more intrusive. They’re going to be more expensive. They’re going to be technically challenging to implement. And these are things around emissions management, be it surface or air emissions. Methane regs, emissions from single well batteries, reportable spills, all those things, they’re going to tighten up, and that’s going to be a challenge from an operating perspective.

“Saskatchewan is, from the oil and gas perspective, a very good place to invest,” he said, noting an Oilweek report from 2017 that said 10 of the top 25 oil producing companies in Canada operate in Saskatchewan, and 11 of the top 25 companies on a netback-basis are Saskatchewan companies. “It means you get a better netback from your production, here in Saskatchewan, than you would in Alberta or other jurisdictions. This is a really good place,” MacLean said.

He added Saskatchewan has quicker turnarounds for well licensing, supportive fiscal terms and good infrastructure. A significant portion of our oil production is light oil, it’s not subject to the same differentials that heavy oil has seen of late.

“Saskatchewan produces about 485,000 barrels of oil a day. Of that, Husky produces 100,000, and Crescent Point produces 100,000. Forty-three per cent of our production comes two companies. The top 20 producing companies in Saskatchewan produce 90 per cent of the oil. There are about 185 oil producing companies. That means there are 165 companies producing that last 10 per cent.”

In North Dakota, MacLean said, “I was inspired by the Bismarck conference. You had the governor stand up and say, ‘You know what, the oil and gas industry is good for the state of North Dakota. We’re at 1.2 million barrels a day, we’re going to two million barrels of oil a day, and we’re going to do it with CO2-EOR. And I envision that in the near future we’re going to be a net-importer of CO2.’

“And then the Secretary of the Interior stood up and said, ‘You know what? The oil and gas industry is good for North Dakota and it’s good for the country as a whole.’

“I’m listening to this message. They have a supportive tax environment, 45Q, that will give tax incentives to companies that go to CO2 storage or EOR. All of these things are supporting that industry. They have removed barriers for approvals for flowlines and pipelines. They had just started up six new gas plants. And I’m sitting there going, wow, okay, we need a positive message for our industry here, in Saskatchewan and in Canada, so I took that as kind of marching orders to do something more for our industry.”

Reflecting on the previous Regina WBPC, he felt something’s got to change from the conference perspective but also the overall message of the industry.

“I’ve basically revamped it. And I did it, not from a home-grown perspective, I’ve hired a professional conference planning company, Eventworks, to help,” MacLean said.

In the past the Regina version of the conference has largely been planned by the team of geologists within the Saskatchewan Geologic Survey, stemming from the conference’s roots as a geology conference, with the PTRC assisting them. “PTRC actually owns the conference, which has been established as a not-for-profit” he said.

With the ongoing support of the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, he said they are changing it up. Whereas before WBPC focused almost exclusively on the Williston Basin, which includes most of North Dakota, the southwest corner of Manitoba and the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, and an occasional presentation representing other areas of the province, now the conference will become province-wide in scope.  

“Our conference this year is not limited to the Williston Basin. We have opened it up to the three pillars of the research that PTRC is involved in. So you will see papers on heavy oil. You will see papers on tight and light oil, and you will see papers on CO2, enhanced oil recovery and CO2 sequestration, and a bunch of other stuff,” MacLean said.

“Let’s show people what we’re doing here,” he said.

One of the recent taglines for the Bismarck edition of the conference was “Bakken Now.”

MacLean said, “Well, I liked that, so I borrowed it. The tagline for us is ‘Saskatchewan Now.’ This is going to be about doing business in Saskatchewan. The proxy is the oil and gas industry. I want to show people, through the lens of the oil and gas industry, this is a great place to do business. You’ve got all those things – a supportive government, fiscal terms, the infrastructure, and the technical skillsets here. All of these things align themselves to say, ‘You know what? Everything you need is here.’”

He noted that real estate and labour costs are also affordable in Saskatchewan.

MacLean pointed out that lithium is a byproduct of oil produced water, and there will be a presentation on that. Helium is another area that will be discussed.

The tradeshow over the last decade grew from a small one to a large one, but has shrunken substantially since the downturn hit. So that’s another area that’s getting a shakeup.

“What are the technologies we should be investing in over the next 10 to 20 years to be successful in this industry? Pumps? Valves and things, yes, they’re important. But we’ll let Lloydminster and Weyburn trade shows show those things off,” he said.

“What do we want to showcase here? The latest and greatest in new technologies – AI – I’ve asked to have a bunch of artificial intelligence people like IBM. Those folks need to be there. What kind of blockchain, big-data technologies should the oil industry be looking at to automate and improve their processes and drive their costs down, to make them more efficient? Those are the things I want to see. Pipeline integrity, flowline integrity.”

He added, “I’ve got Chris Bloomer, who is the president of the pipeline association, he’s on one of our panels. We’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about reducing surface footprint and our freshwater usage. Those are the types of technologies I want to see. I don’t want to see a pump. I don’t want to see a compressor,” MacLean said.

As for panelists and speakers, he said there will be government people and c-suite people. “I’ve got investors who will talk about doing business here.”

MacLean spoke of how in the last 20 years the United States has gone from 4 million barrels per day of oil production to 12 million. “They are producing more than Saudi Arabia and more than the former Soviet Union. And here we are. What’s different? The price is the same. It’s the restrictions associated with our federal and some provincial governments that are holding us back. We produced 4.2 million barrels per day in 2017, we’ll be lucky to do that today. We’ve flattened out. What’s wrong with this picture? 

“Am I getting you excited?” he said.

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