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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: Eavor Techologies  View Eavor Technologies CEO – John Redfern’s response here

My letter in response to this article in the Financial Post: https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/an-open-letter-to-canadians-from-oil-and-gas-workers

By Zac Trolley

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.

Alberta

Canadians in three provinces will spend roughly the same on debt interest as K-12 education

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From the Fraser Institute

By Grady Munro and Jake Fuss

From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted).

For more than a decade, Canadian governments have increasingly relied on borrowed money to fund their excessive spending habits. However, as debt has continued to pile up so have the costs associated with this debt—namely interest costs. A recent study shows that in some of the largest provinces, governments now spend nearly as much or more on debt interest costs than on K-12 education.

Since the 2008/09 financial crisis, governments across Canada have fallen into the habit of utilizing debt to fund their spending habits. For example, consider the federal government.

From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted). Conversely, from 1996/97 to 2007/08, the federal government actually lowered its net debt by $348.1 billion (inflation-adjusted). Clearly, there’s been a shift in the government’s approach towards debt accumulation.

This is not simply a federal problem, as provinces have also seen their debt burdens rise as well. Cumulatively, provincial and federal net debt has increased by $1.0 trillion (inflation-adjusted) from 2007/08 to 2023/24.

Government debt carries costs, primarily in the form of the interest payments, which represent money that doesn’t go towards paying down the actual debt amount, nor does it go towards providing government services or tax relief. And since governments must utilize tax revenues to pay interest, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for servicing government debt.

But how much do Canadians actually pay in debt interest costs?

Using data from the most recent fiscal updates, a new study compares combined (federal and provincial) debt interest costs for residents in three of the largest provinces (OntarioQuebec and Alberta) with what those provinces expect to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. The study utilizes combined debt interest costs because Canadians are ultimately responsible for interest costs incurred by both the federal government and the province in which they live. The following chart summarizes the comparisons from the study.

As is clear from the chart, combined interest costs for residents in these provinces are nearly as much or more than their province expects to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Specifically, combined interest costs are $31.5 billion for Ontarians, which is only $3.2 billion less than the province will spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Combined interest costs for Quebecers ($20.3 billion) will actually exceed the $19.9 billion the province will devote towards K-12 education. And combined interest costs for Albertans are only slightly lower than the $8.9 billion that will be spent on K-12 education.

In other words, taxpayers in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are paying nearly as much or more to service federal and provincial government debt than they are paying to fund K-12 education in their province. This budget season, it’s important to remember the costs associated with growing government debt.

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Alberta

Edmonton triples venture capital investment in 2023

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Alberta’s tech sector continues its strong momentum, with Edmonton seeing its strongest growth ever, proof Alberta remains a hot tech market.

As global and national investment have declined, Alberta has remained a strong tech market and is showing continued leadership, as shown by Pitchbook ranking Calgary as the 12th fastest-growing tech ecosystem in the world and LinkedIn ranking Calgary as one of the best places to hire and recruit tech workers.

At the end of 2023, Alberta’s five-year growth rate for venture capital dollars invested reached an impressive 48.5 per cent, more than triple Canada’s compounded average growth rate of 13 per cent, according to the 2023 Canadian Venture Capital Private Equity Association fourth-quarter report.

The province’s growth rate means Alberta finished 2023 with $707 million invested over 86 deals, in line with Alberta’s 2022 record-breaking year. In contrast, Canada ended the year with a 31 per cent decline in investments. Over the past five years, Alberta technology companies have secured more than $2.7 billion in venture capital funding across 350 deals, creating thousands of jobs for Albertans.

“While Canada as a whole saw massive declines, Alberta has held steady. We are a major venture capital player in Canada, as technology drives growth across all sectors.”

Nate Glubish, Minister of Technology and Innovation

Alberta’s two largest cities continued to attract investment dollars in 2023, with Calgary and Edmonton coming in fourth and fifth respectively for number of deals, with $501 million invested in 64 deals in Calgary and $188 million invested in 21 deals in Edmonton. Edmonton saw a 324 per cent increase from $58 million in 2022 to $188 million in 2023. In total, Alberta captured 10.3 per cent of dollars invested in 2023 and 13 per cent of venture capital deals in Canada.

“Edmonton’s tripling of venture capital investment in 2023 underscores our city’s position as a dynamic tech capital within Alberta’s thriving innovation ecosystem, reaffirming our role as a powerhouse driving technological advancement and economic prosperity across diverse sectors. It is the local innovators’ relentless pursuit of solutions to real-world problems, with the continuing support of the Government of Alberta, which not only attracts significant investment but also propels our city to the forefront of Alberta’s tech revolution and fosters job creation for our community.”

Launa Aspeslet, interim chief executive officer, Edmonton Unlimited

“At Platform Calgary we are working with our partners to continue this momentum by linking up high potential tech startups with the investors that can help them take their businesses to the next level. The evidence is clear, Alberta is emerging as one of the most exciting and resilient tech ecosystems in the world. Together with our growing tech community, we can secure Alberta’s position as the best place in the world for anyone to launch and grow a tech business.”

Terry Rock, president and chief executive officer, Platform Calgary 

Alberta remains a growing market for the technology and innovation sector, and Alberta’s government celebrates its steady contribution to the Alberta economy, including in the fourth quarter of 2023. The end of last year saw venture capital investments in the province increase by 35 per cent for dollars invested and 19 per cent for deals closed compared with the third quarter. There were 25 deals closed valued at a combined $173 million in the fourth quarter of 2023.

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