Red tape chasing investors away from Alberta’s energy industry

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Appeared in the Edmonton Journal, October 18, 2017

Earlier this month, TransCanada Corporation, a major North American energy company, pulled the plug on Energy East—its 1.1 million-barrel-per-day oil pipeline between Alberta and New Brunswick—after the company said it would conduct a “careful review” of the cost impacts of the National Energy Board’s changing regulations.

It was the latest hit in a chain of bad news for Canada’s energy industry, and further evidence that Canada’s growing regulatory barriers may be damaging our investment climate.

Although plunging oil prices and the approval of competing pipelines such as Keystone XL contributed to the cancellation of the East Energy pipeline, the fact that governments continue to pile on new taxes and unclear regulations is killing existing projects and driving investment away from Canada.

Consider this. A 2016 Fraser Institute survey of energy executives and managers found that Alberta’s investment attractiveness experienced a significant decline over the past few years. In 2014, Alberta ranked in the top 15 most attractive jurisdictions, but tumbled to 25th in 2015 and continued its downward slide to 43rd in 2016. This ranking is based on a Policy Perception Index score, which measures the extent to which policy deters oil and gas investment.

So what policies are driving capital and companies out of Alberta?

Simply put, regulatory hurdles and poor policy decisions by the provincial and federal governments. Alberta’s new carbon tax, higher corporate and personal income taxes, a cap on GHG emissions from oilsands production all contribute to a poor investment climate.

Crucially, while Alberta has become less attractive for investment, neighbouring U.S. jurisdictions such as Texas, North Dakota and Oklahoma have remained among the most attractive jurisdictions worldwide. In fact, according to the Fraser survey, in 2016 U.S. states comprised eight of the top 10 jurisdictions around the world, while Saskatchewan was Canada’s only top-performing jurisdiction.

And Alberta’s investment attractiveness will likely continue to fall behind its U.S. counterparts as new U.S. policy changes, led by President Trump, favour the energy sector. Not only is President Trump not making it harder to develop oil and gas resources in the States, he’s making it easier, opening additional lands, suspending onerous regulations, dropping international greenhouse gas obligations, allowing oil exportation and, perhaps, cutting taxes on business.

Yet back in Canada, we’re having a difficult time getting shovels in the ground for major energy infrastructure projects--at a high cost for Canadians and the economy.

For example, studies show that if Canada exported one million barrels (bbl) of conventional heavy oil and oilsands bitumen per day to world markets at US$60/barrel, additional industry revenues would reach $4.2 billion annually. And if access to international markets garnered Canadian producers a price boost, the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments could see oil royalties increase by more than C$1 billion annually, assuming oil reaches US$60/barrel.

That would mean more Canadian jobs (and jobs for Albertans) and billions of dollars in revenues for governments, which could be used on vital services such as health care, education and infrastructure.

But the harsh reality is that regulatory hurdles and poor policy decisions have crippled Canada’s attempts to access new energy markets. TransCanada’s abandonment of Energy East appears to be the latest example of investment walking out the door, leaving Canadian jobs and economic opportunities behind.

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