Investor confidence in Alberta oil and gas sector continues to wane

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, December 1, 2018
Investor confidence in Alberta oil and gas sector continues to wane

As the Notley government announces plans to buy rail cars to get Alberta oil to market and perhaps cut oil production, there’s more breaking news.

According to a new survey of oil and gas executives, Alberta is one of the least-attractive places to invest in Canada, which means fewer jobs, less revenue to pay for public services, and less prosperity and opportunity overall. The troubling results are from the 2018 Fraser Institute Global Petroleum Survey, which tracks the perceptions of oil and gas investors by spotlighting policies that affect investment attractiveness including royalties, taxes and regulations.

Since last year, Alberta dropped from 33rd (out of 97) in 2017 to 43rd (out of 80) in 2018, falling from the top half of jurisdictions to the bottom half, and for the second straight year, retaining its status as the second-least-attractive Canadian province for investment.

In more bad news, Alberta now ranks far behind international competitors such as Texas (the most attractive jurisdiction in the world, based on policies), Oklahoma (the second most attractive) and Kansas (the third). Notably, this year nine of the world’s top 10 jurisdictions are in the United States compared to six last year.

So why is this happening? Why are investors souring on Alberta’s energy sector, and instead, looking south of the border? Simply put, the province’s regulatory and taxation regimes are hurting investor confidence.

Consider this. More than 50 per cent of survey respondents see Alberta’s fiscal terms and taxation as deterrents to investment, compared to four per cent for Texas. In a stunning result, 73 per cent of respondents cited Alberta’s cost of regulatory compliance as a deterrent to investment this year compared to only 10 per cent for Texas and seven per cent for Kansas. And more than 70 per cent of respondents see Alberta’s environmental regulations as a deterrent to investment compared to only four per cent for Texas and Oklahoma. Clearly, Alberta’s regulatory regime is excessive and out of line with many of its U.S. competitors.

To make matters worse, Bill C-69, which is currently under Senate review, will add a large number of subjective criteria to the review process including the “social” impact of energy investment and its gender implications, which will likely increase uncertainty, further politicize the regulatory process and lengthen approval times. In other words, it’s likely that this Bill will make Alberta even less attractive to investment.

Finally, Canadian oil producers continue to face a steep price discount for their heavy crudes largely due to insufficient pipeline infrastructure. Earlier this year the Trudeau government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion after Kinder Morgan halted work amid rising opposition from environmental groups and the British Columbia government. And earlier this month, a U.S. judge in Montana put a hold on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project. Undoubtedly the lack of adequate pipeline capacity remains an ongoing and serious concern for investors as they are unable to secure fair prices or reliable transportation options for crude oil.

Once again this year, oil and gas investors are sending a clear signal that Canada’s energy sector has serious problems. To change perceptions, policymakers must pivot towards competitive policies to show investors that the energy industry can still prosper in Alberta.

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