Canada’s oil price woes reaching an ’emergency situation,’ Cenovus CEO says

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The head of one of the country’s largest oilsands producers says Canada’s oil price woes are reaching an « emergency situation, » and on Wednesday saw his company’s call for production cuts echoed by a competitor. 

Oil « is a provincial resource and… we’re giving it away for free, » Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix said on CBC Calgary’s morning show, The Eyeopener.

« Nobody is making money at this price and this is rapidly becoming an emergency situation in the economy. »

Pourbaix made the comments following his company’s calls for the Alberta government to mandate temporary production cuts to help deal with an oil glut and pipeline bottlenecks that are weighing heavily on many producers.

The value of Western Canadian Select is tracking roughly $40 per barrel less than the U.S. benchmark. On Wednesday it was at $15.75 US a barrel, compared to $56.18 US for West Texas Intermediate.

Calgary-based Cenovus is blaming political setbacks for the failure to build pipelines, urging the province to take action.

That sentiment was echoed Wednesday by Canadian Natural Resources executive vice chairman Steve Laut, said his company is « fully supportive of curtailments » by all Alberta producers.

« It’s something that has worked in the past, » Laut told CBC News. 

Laut noted that then-premier Peter Lougheed cut output in 1980, a point also raised by Cenovus. 

« It just makes total sense. It’s the simplest, cleanest and most effective way to ensure Albertans get value for resources and end the subsidies to U.S. buyers, » Laut said. 

Analysts have said that while many Canadian oil companies can’t seem to catch a break on prices, some American refineries are enjoying a « heyday » because of the price differential. 

If the whole sector reined in production, Laut believes there probably would be a market response almost immediately from the psychological effect of the news. 

« But I think, depending on what size of curtailment they used, it could be within 30 to 50 days, » for the strategy to correct the supply-demand problem, Laut said.

Canadian Natural Resources executive vice chairman Steve Laut told CBC News that the company is ‘fully supportive of curtailments’ by all Alberta producers. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

CNR said recently it has already cut production by up to 15,000 barrels per day and could increase that figure to as much as 55,000 this month and in December.

Canadian prices crashed in September because of a backlog of oil in Alberta.

The Fort McMurray region has increased production throughout this year, but export pipelines are full and several refineries in the U.S. which process heavy oil from Alberta, have shut down for maintenance.

Some industry experts now expect low prices for Canadian heavy crude could persist into 2020, though more export pipeline space is expected once Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project is complete in about 12 months.

The situation has stung many Alberta producers, with one estimate pegging the cost to the sector at $100 million a day.

But some observers have noted that not all companies are affected the same way and it would be difficult to get everyone to agree on output cuts.

Large integrated companies would not be affected like companies without refineries or other options for their oil productions, said Warren Mabee, an expert on energy policy at Queen’s University.

Suncor president and CEO Steve Williams told analysts this month that the market is working. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Indeed, Suncor’s CEO said this month his company has full pipeline access to market for all of its production.

« That was a strategic decision we made, » Steve Williams said in a financial call with analysts.

« I have a great deal of sympathy for where the market is, and I understand the pressure that others are under. We invested for this circumstance to make sure it had — it’s not a zero impact but minimal impact on us.

« So what’s happening is, the market is working. The higher cost producers are having to pull back because they’re not making any margin on their last barrel. We are not in that circumstance. »

The provincial government has so far said little about the call for mandated production cuts.

On Wednesday, it reiterated its position that Premier Rachel Notley is fighting to build new pipelines and pushing Ottawa to step up and help fix the backlog in rail shipments.

However, spokesman Mike McKinnon said in an email that « we’re not ruling out any options. »

In Calgary on Wednesday, the federal natural resources minister said he shares Albertan’s « frustration » at billions of dollars being lost to the Canadian economy due to oil price discounts linked to export pipeline capacity constraints.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Ottawa is focused on finding long-term solutions for the oil sector. (CBC/Scott Neufeld)

But Amarjeet Sohi said Ottawa is focused on finding long-term solutions by getting approval for new export pipelines such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project it bought in August.

Asked about an Alberta request in October for the federal government to support crude-by-rail shipments, Sohi said the Alberta request is being examined by his department but he hasn’t actually seen it.

« My department is engaging with provinces, we are engaging with other federal departments, to see what can can be done in the short term, » Sohi told reporters. 

« But as you know, more than 200,000 barrels of oil is shipped through rail now and that is going up. What we need to do, we need long-term solutions. »

With files from The Canadian Press

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Sask. work deaths reaching crisis level, says U of R professor

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A rising number of work-related deaths have reached a crisis level, according to University of Regina associate professor Sean Tucker.

37 people have been victims of work fatalities from January to the end of August in 2018. That’s up from 27 in all of 2017 and 31 in 2016.

In 2012, the number of workplace deaths hit a high of 60. Since then, the numbers have been steadily declining- until this year.

Work-related deaths in Saskatchewan are on the rise after hitting a ten-year low in 2017.

Meanwhile, Alberta and Manitoba are both seeing much lower fatal injury rates during the same time period, though it should be noted Manitoba uses a different reporting system for vehicle-related incidents.

This year, the leading causes of workplace fatalities in Saskatchewan are occupational disease and motor vehicle-related incidents. It’s a shift from 2017 when the leading causes were occupational diseases and acute injuries.

According to the Worker’s Compensation Board, occupational disease-related fatalities are often diagnosed years after a workplace exposure.

The group expects occupational disease-related deaths will continue as workers in the province are often exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk of disease or death decades into the future.

The stats don’t always reflect the faces, families and stories of those who were lost, but Tucker said there are concrete steps that can be taken to reverse the dangerous trend.


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“It doesn’t have to be this way in Saskatchewan,” Tucker said. “Serious injury and fatalities are preventable- and actually quite easily preventable.”

He’s calling for enhanced occupational health officer training, increased police knowledge of occupational health and safety criminal charges and a greater awareness of workplace safety inspections.

Tucker would also like to see more safety materials for workers who have learned English as a second language, and more education about basic rights in the workplace.

All workers have the right to know about hazards in the workplace, participate in the control of hazards in the workplace and be part of an occupational health and safety committee, and refuse work that is usually dangerous without repercussions.


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Tucker wants to see new provisions added to existing legislation that would allow workers to refuse work they believe is dangerous on behalf of their younger, more vulnerable colleagues.

The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation board also said it’s changing some of its approaches in hopes of keeping more people safe.

“All workplace fatalities are preventable,” Vice-president of prevention Phil Germain said. “We all need to step up to make our workplaces safer. All organizations, no matter their size, should be investing in their own safety programs and make safety a key part of their culture. Safety belongs to each of us individually as much as it is a collective concern. Working safely is just smart business and it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s a long road ahead, but Tucker is optimistic things could start moving in the right direction if action is taken.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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