GOALA Maple Leaf on Mars
08 Apr 2020

Dear Oil Executives

Canada’s oil and gas workers need your help. For decades, we have been asking you to diversify our economy and look for ways to avoid the boom and bust cycle. We are now in a perfect storm with oil prices falling and workers in isolation from a deadly virus. We need your leadership more than ever.

Unfortunately for us, you’ve chosen the least imaginative path possible: stay the course. In your April 6th Op-Ed in the Financial Post, you argued that the fossil fuel industry needs federal support in order to maintain a skilled workforce. For a province that prides itself on hard work and innovation, don’t you think we can do better? 

We cannot rely on high oil prices for our economic survival.

The underlying assumption that you have made is that oil prices will return to a level that’s profitable for Alberta. But the historical trend doesn’t support your argument. 

Oil Prices
30 year history of oil prices

When you look at the historical price of WTI, Alberta’s golden years came from a bubble. In 2008 analysts all over the province were claiming oil would climb to $200 and Alberta would become the crown jewel of Canada. That turned out to be wishful thinking.  You have dusted off that same playbook, claiming that oil will keep going up in price. The more likely scenario is that prices will return to their historical average

I agree with you that we need to ensure that we can maintain our workforce. It’s essential that Alberta has skilled people working in our province so that we can develop our resources. Canada as a whole needs to maintain our skilled labour force and keep our economy functioning so that we can rebound once the pandemic is over. But putting those 200,000 people back to work into fossil fuels is a terrible idea.

So what do we do with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people and billions of dollars of idle equipment? 

My suggestion is we find markets outside of oil and gas that require very similar skill sets. We leverage our existing infrastructure, supply chains, and experience to build new industries here in Alberta.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy needs the same drilling rigs that the oil service industry has sitting idle. You can use your existing geologists, roughnecks, pipe fitters, and welders to drill geothermal wells instead of oil wells. The end result is clean baseload power that can replace coal in this province and all over the world. The added benefit of developing geothermal is that we re-purpose orphan wells into sources of heat and electricity. Companies like Eavor and DEEP have already started.

Battery Manufacturing

As we move to cleaner energy sources, batteries will become more important to the sustainability of our economy. Batteries need a lot of material to be manufactured and companies like E3 Metals are developing extraction techniques to create a lithium industry here in Alberta. There are plenty of technicians, engineers, and fabricators in our energy community that are entirely capable of working on projects like this.

Nuclear Power

While we are brainstorming ideas, let’s think big. If we are serious about providing clean, low carbon, environmentally friendly energy we have to look at nuclear. The folks at Terrestrial Energy have designed a modular reactor that’s small, safe, and could absolutely be manufactured here in Alberta. I bet the mod yards would be jumping at the chance to have a backlog of work.

I agree with you that we absolutely need to support our workforce. However, I don’t think keeping our oil industry limping along can be the full answer for our skilled and versatile workforce. Our talented population needs options.

Please stop looking in the rear view mirror and start building for the future.

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