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A Response To: An Open Letter To Canadians From Oil And Gas Workers

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Update –  April 13th 2020: View Eavor Technologies CEO – John Redfern’s response here

A letter in response to this:

https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/an-open-letter-to-canadians-from-oil-and-gas-workers

Dear Albertan 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? 

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. 

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. 

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

(The picture was taken from https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/crude-oil But any 30-year graph will do. )

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.

I’ve got three examples. 

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy needs the same drilling rigs that the oil service industry has sitting idle. You can use your existing geologists, roughnecks, pipefitters, 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 repurpose 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 Terrestial 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 rearview mirror and start building for the future.

Update – April 13th 2020: View Eavor Technologies CEO – John Redfern’s response here

This article was originally published on April 8, 2020.

Business

Air Canada denying passenger compensation claims for staff shortages, citing safety

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MONTREAL — Less than four hours before departure, Ryan Farrell was surprised to learn his flight from Yellowknife to Calgary had been cancelled.

Air Canada cited “crew constraints” and rebooked him on a plane leaving 48 hours after the June 17 flight’s original takeoff time.

Farrell was even more surprised six weeks later, when he learned his request for compensation had been denied on the basis of the staff shortage.

“Since your Air Canada flight was delayed/cancelled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue,” reads the email from customer relations dated July 29.

The rejection “feels like a slap in the face,” Farrell said.

“If they don’t have replacement crew to substitute in, then the flight (was) cancelled because they failed to assemble a crew, not because any other factor would have made it inherently unsafe to run the flight,” he said in an email.

“I think the airlines are trying to exploit a general emotional connection that people make between ‘COVID-19’ and ‘safety,’ when in reality if you put their logic to the test it doesn’t stand up.”

Air Canada’s response to Farrell’s complaint was no outlier. In a Dec. 29 memo, the company instructed employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a “safety” problem, which would exclude travellers from compensation under federal regulations. That policy remains in place.

Canada’s passenger rights charter, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), mandates airlines to pay up to $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that stem from reasons within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. However, airlines do not have to pay if the change was required for safety purposes.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial federal body, says treating staff shortages as a safety matter violates federal rules.

“If a crew shortage is due to the actions or inactions of the carrier, the disruption will be considered within the carrier’s control for the purposes of the APPR. Therefore, a disruption caused by a crew shortage should not be considered ‘required for safety purposes’ when it is the carrier who caused the safety issue as a result of its own actions,” the agency said in an email.

That stance reinforces a decision made July 8 — three weeks before Farrell learned he’d been denied compensation — when the CTA used nearly identical language in a dispute over a flight at a different air carrier. The regulatory panel’s ruling in that case emphasized airlines’ obligations around advance planning “to ensure that the carrier has enough staff available to operate the services it offers for sale.”

In the December memo, which was issued at the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, Air Canada said: “Effective immediately, flight cancellations due to crew are considered as Within Carrier Control — For Safety.”

“Customers impacted by these flight cancellations will still be eligible for the standard of treatments such as hotel accommodations, meals etc. but will no longer be eligible for APPR claims/monetary compensation.”

The staff directive said the stance would be “temporary.” But Air Canada acknowledged in an email on July 25 that the policy “remains in place given the continued exceptional circumstances brought on by COVID variants.”

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said Air Canada is exploiting a loophole in the passenger rights charter to avoid paying compensation, and called on the transport regulator for stronger enforcement.

“They are misclassifying things that are clearly not a safety issue,” he said of Canada’s largest airline, calling the policy “egregious.”

Consumers can dispute an airline’s denial of a claim via a compliant to the CTA. However, the agency’s backlog topped 15,300 air travel complaints as of May.

Lukacs also noted that European Union regulations do not exclude safety reasons from situations requiring compensation in the event of cancellations or delays. Payouts are precluded only as a result of “extraordinary circumstances,” such as weather or political instability.

“This document, along with the previous declarations and behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic, shows that Air Canada’s priority is clearly to try to limit the costs of the flight cancellations instead of providing good service to its clients,” Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Quebec-based advocacy group Option consommateurs, said after reviewing a copy of the directive.

She said Air Canada aims to deter passengers from requesting compensation in the first place. “This tactic does not, in our opinion, demonstrate that the company cares about its customers.”

Air Canada disagrees with that characterization.

“Air Canada had and continues to have more employees proportionate to its flying schedule when compared prior to the pandemic,” the company said in an emailed statement, indicating it had done everything it could to prepare for operational hiccups.

“Air Canada follows all public health directives as part of its safety culture, and during the Omicron wave last winter that affected some crew availability, we revised our policy to better assist customers in their travels with enhanced levels of customer care for flight cancellations related to crew contending with COVID.”

John Gradek, head of McGill University’s aviation management program, said the transportation agency is partly responsible for the “debacle” because it established looser rules than those in Europe and the United States.

“Carriers have been making strong efforts to point fingers and claim delays are outside of their control to reduce liability,” he said in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Power utility TransAlta reports $80 million loss in second quarter

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CALGARY — TransAlta Corp. reported a loss of $80 million in its latest quarter compared with a loss of $12 million in the same quarter last year.

The Calgary-based power utility says the net loss attributable to common shareholders amounted to 30 cents per diluted share for the second quarter.

That compares with a loss of four cents per share for the same period in 2021.

Revenue in the company’s quarter ended June 30 totalled $458 million, down from $619 million a year ago.

TransAlta says its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the quarter was $279 million, down 13 per cent from $319 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

Funds from operations totalled $220 million, down from $267 million in the same quarter last year.

TransAlta’s free cash flow was $145 million for the quarter compared with $155 million in 2021’s second quarter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TA)

The Canadian Press

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