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No backseat here
The North may be one of the world’s last frontiers but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for second… [more]
Shaping an industry…and adapting to change
Whether someone has been around the petroleum industry as long as Vic Brandl, or is a relative newcomer… [more]
Once in a lifetime
Spatsizi Lodge is one in a million. Well, truth be told, it’s one in 1.2 million – acres that is.… [more]
Another path to gas
The search for that ‘better mousetrap’ is never ending and that holds true for the petroleum sector… [more]
Cleaning up the paper trail
In a constantly changing industry, everyone needs to keep up and that includes the safety association… [more]
No backseat here
The North may be one of the world’s last frontiers but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for second… [more]
Shaping an industry…and adapting to change
Whether someone has been around the petroleum industry as long as Vic Brandl, or is a relative newcomer… [more]
Once in a lifetime
Spatsizi Lodge is one in a million. Well, truth be told, it’s one in 1.2 million – acres that is.… [more]
Another path to gas
The search for that ‘better mousetrap’ is never ending and that holds true for the petroleum sector… [more]
It’s an industry region – and make no mistake – in this ‘man’s world’ there are some strong, competent and engaged women involved, not just with industry, but with business in general, and the Women In The North Conference is just for them.
“We’re a small town and…it started because if there’s anything like this going on, it’s either in Edmonton or Calgary and most women up here can’t take advantage of that,” said organizer Agnes Knudsen. “So we kind of started our own.”
It’s that kind of spirit that permeates the one-day event, which hosts speakers that motivate, inspire and educate women. While the conference is targeted toward businesswomen, others attend and are certainly welcomed.
This year’s two speakers will be Alberta Venture Publisher Ruth Kelly and Michelle Cederberg, certified professional speaker, author, health and productivity expert and a woman with just a little bit extra to offer.
One of those extras was to provide NWB with a sneak peak at what she will be saying once she gets to Peace River.
“I am a speaker that specializes in health and productivity for busy people. The two talks that I’m doing when I come up to Peace River are around life balance and personal energy,” said Cederberg.
“My big thing is kind of guilt-free ideas and guilt-free motivation to put yourself back on your priority list.”
She doesn’t think it’s right for people to come into a group and say, “you’re not doing it right”. Her approach is to recognize that people are doing the best that they can and to provide them with some insight and some small, realistic steps to better self-care, and all with a liberal dose of humour.
“I’m doing a talk about exposing the myths of life balance, which is really about figuring out how to put yourself back on your own priority list – where our time goes and what we can do to take care of ourselves – and energy now (that) is a talk that’s based on my book that I released last year on finding better energy in small steps everyday – body mind and spirit, said Cederberg.
Cederberg has a background as a kinesiologist and a personal trainer but said she got inspired to get into speaking because she “wanted to help more people find a better path to health and productivity”.
“I love being able to give audiences those awarenesses or a different way of looking at things that inspires them into action on stuff that they’ve been putting off. I like to teach through laughter, if you will, and get people excited about the possibility of self-care and betterment,” she explained.
A strong proponent of physical health for personal and professional development, Cederberg understands that it is the body that carries people through life and that how that body makes the journey affects the decisions people make.
“If we’re travelling in a tired, low energy, overweight, unfulfilled body, the choices that we make moving forward are different. If we’re feeling physically healthy and energetic and we’ve got some semblance of energy in our life then it means we’re doing fulfilling work or else taking care of ourselves; then it means we’ll make different choices again. We’ll reach for higher aspirations, we’ll treat people around us better and differently, then it all just kind of falls into place I think,” she said. And that’s exactly what she’ll be trying to do at the conference.
In its sixth year, Women In The North is growing each year with over 100 in attendance last year and more still expected for the April 24 event. Women will get an exceptional experience from the speakers but also from each other. It’s a great chance to network, share stories, concerns and perhaps most importantly, solutions.
“If you just give us a chance to get together, we’ll work it out,” said Knudsen.
For more information or to register, please contact Peace River Community Futures at 780.624.1161 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Michelle Cederberg, visit her websites at worklifeenergy.com and michellecederberg.com.
There are a myriad of ways to ensure worker safety but suicide prevention strategies are rarely numbered among them.
Gone are the days of ‘suck it up’. The work hard, play hard lifestyle comes at a cost and more often than people might realize, it leads to anxiety, depression, addiction and worse.
“People are dying from this, “ said a safety resource that we will call Shaun. He now acts as a facilitator, attending presentations to other men in industry, trades and agriculture, where he openly talks about his experiences with anxiety, depression and eventually, addiction.
He is one of the volunteers of the Men at Risk Program. It’s primary goals are to increase awareness of the effects of unmanaged stress and/or depression, to identify what to say and do with people at risk for mental health problems, to address the stigma of getting help by hearing about real life experiences, to promote realistic stress management strategies and to provide co-workers and supervisors with information on supports and resources to assist someone in getting help.
After someone he knew committed suicide, a long term oilfield technician we will call Dwane found himself suffering from guilt and depression. Even though he didn’t think of himself as having a problem, a company-organized workshop on stress and depression let him identify the symptoms of depression in himself, opening the door to the getting the help he needed.
He describes an internal struggle to get past ideas like ‘I’m weak’ and ‘men don’t need help’ before he was able to make his first appointment. “It was a huge step for me, oilpatch guy, to say ‘ya I needed help’.” Once he got that help, he was able to use his experience to help others.
“My counselor suggested that I should work with the Men at Risk Program, that I had a good message to deliver to others that a lot of people could relate to,” said Dwane, and that began his involvement as a facilitator.
The presentations offer a down to earth look at what many people experience told through the words of men that understand how industry works and know first hand what the working environment of their listeners is really like.
“There are six volunteers actively involved with the Men at Risk Program in Grande Prairie area, two in the Lloydminster area and two in the Camrose area,” said program coordinator Barbara Campbell. Men at Risk volunteers include a truck driver, an oilfield technician, a safety team leader, an industrial arts teacher, and media/events coordinator.
“Years ago when people talked about mental illness, they thought it would be a reflection on themselves if they said, ‘Hey my brother suffers from depression’,” said Shaun. There was a stigma attached to mental illness that was especially strong for men. A large part of what the program volunteers are able to do is let people know that these issues are more common than people think. In Shaun’s experience, he said the most common response he gets after a presentation is, ‘It’s good to hear from someone that’s been there’.
Dwane reports hearing much the same. Campbell explained that the message “really resounds with middle aged (men) and older”. The younger men, she said, “don’t know who to emulate”, the men who still live a high-risk, old-school lifestyle or men like Dwane, who have learned from experience that there might be another way to go.
“The younger guys are feeling the stress but I think as we get older, our bodies and our minds can take less,” said Campbell. Dwane also added that because the “oilfield culture” is changing the younger men have a different mindset and are more likely to be willing to seek help.
In a presentation to 200 people, Dwane said he has had as many as four or five come up to him and talk about their own experiences. He opens that door by talking about the workplace and the kinds of stressors that the audience can recognize and relate to.
Campbell said that the program statistics show that 75 per cent of people responding to their post-presentation questionnaire said they had more awareness and more willingness to reach out to someone that they know who may be struggling and are more likely to get help for themselves.
And if it all sounds a little airyfairy, touchy-feely, it isn’t. This hazard may not be as obvious as a wire that someone can trip over or unmarked danger areas but it nonetheless carries the potential for serious consequences. In 2010, said Shaun, 500 people in the province of Alberta died by their own hands – “more than died on the highways”.
Lack of attention, taking unnecessary risks or volatile outbursts can all potentially cause damage to workers and equipment and are all indications that someone could be having difficulty managing their stress, explained Shaun.
“What most companies focus on is the physical hazards and because mental illness is invisible, it takes training in order to see the symptoms and train coworkers to look out for one another for more than just the physical surroundings you’re working in,” said Shaun.
“Include this in your hazard assessment. If your coworker is acting very aggressive or agitated, you can refuse to work just as you would with an unsafe piece of equipment.” That is what he is trying to do in his job as a safety leader, he said – joining the environmental hazards with the less obvious hazards posed by a ‘man at risk’.
“Mental illness is the leading cost of disability right now in our country,” said Shaun. Billions of dollars a year in disability claims and WCB claims go toward treating mental illness in Canada. It’s a staggering amount suggesting that the problems of mental illness are more pervasive than might be realized.
The cost to train personnel to respond appropriately to this particular hazard is less than it would cost in down time, injury claims, the costs of retraining someone new, the cost of damaged equipment – the same list as any other component of a good safety program. And having a plan in place before something happens can save life and limb.
“It’s an injury prevention strategy we’re talking about,” said Campbell.
Safety personnel, recommended Shaun, first need to learn what to look for as symptoms of unmanaged stress, anxiety and depression. The Internet, he added, is a good source of information but people need to go to the right sites he cautioned. The resources listed to the right should be able to direct people to credible sites that can offer good information. It’s also the kind of information that the Men At Risk presentations bring to their audiences.
It doesn’t have to be huge or inappropriate behaviour to indicate a cause for concern. It can be small changes in behaviour such as someone who usually participates in meetings and then “backs off”, isolating themselves away from others. Those kinds of changes can be the red flag that something is wrong, said Shaun.
“Those subtle changes over time can really be the trigger to getting the help you need instead of waiting until it’s a real serious problem. It’s not unlike a cancer where if you wait until the cancer is huge, you have very little chance of fixing it.”
In this age of employers paying close attention to retention strategies, providing mental health assistance when it’s needed, can go a long way toward employee loyalty suggested Shaun.
“There are companies out there that say: ‘We don’t have these issues so we don’t need this’,” said Shaun, but he added that he didn’t know if that was just a head in the sand attitude since “one in five of us is dealing with it”. “It’s time to realize that the ratio is in every workplace.” In his opinion, people in trades and industry are experiencing an even higher ratio.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre originated the Men at Risk program in 1999 and holds the copyright on it. Since 1999 it has expanded, has been evaluated, and in 2006 was replicated in two additional areas of AB – Camrose and Lloydminster.
Men at Risk is one of the programs addressing priority at-risk groups in A Call To Action – The Alberta Suicide Prevention Strategy (Alberta Mental Health Board 2005).
Men at Risk reaches their target group through associations such as the AB Construction Safety Association, the Alberta Motor Transport Association and through career and employment counselors and Occupational Health Nurses. The program is also delivered to people in addictions recovery programs in some areas.
The volunteer facilitators donate hundreds of hours per year in networking and promotion, travel to and delivering presentations, attending Advisory Committee meetings, displays and videoconferences, and mentoring other Facilitators. Representatives from Alberta Health Services and the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre Executive Director are also active on the Advisory Committee.
To book a presentation for your employees – call (780) 539-0210 or email email@example.com.
* Mental Health Services
* Support Groups
* Health Link (24/7) 1-866-408-5465
* Mental Health Help Line (24/7) 1-877-303-2642
* Addictions Help Line (24/7) 1-866-332-2322
Men At Risk Contacts:
Barbara Campbell – Peace Country
Suicide Prevention Resource Centre
Sandra Loades – Camrose and Area
Addiction and Mental Health – Alberta
Neil Harris – Lloydminster and Area
Addiction and Mental Health – Alberta
* Crisis Centre for Northern British Columbia 250-563-1214 or 1-888-562-1214
* The BC Distress Line Network (province-wide) 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
* Other Crisis Line numbers by community: http://www.northernbccrisissuicide.ca/crisis-lines.html
As the industry grows, so does the equipment and finding the best way to coordinate its use is as important as the equipment itself.
RyTy knows how to do it big and do it with confidence. It’s no small undertaking to move an 84-wheel trailer – 98 if you count the push truck – that is able to haul 150 tonnes and with 1,100 hp pushing this thing. It’s payload potential is 320,000 lbs and there is nothing this big north of Edmonton, and in BC it’s like is nowhere to be found says RyTy Manager Shaun Lawrence.
“With oil and gas being the primary way of living in this area, so many companies have compressors which is the main thing we haul with it,” says Lawrence. There is a definite need for something this big. It is a monster all right, but RyTy thinks it’s worth all the effort to make the equipment work for them and their clients. One of the biggest benefits it that loads don’t have to be broken down for transport.
However planning is paramount when it comes to putting all the pieces together to make that happen and the logistics could make you dizzy. It’s not only coordination that’s needed, but cooperation as well. Permits, dealing with traffic, power companies, crews, and routing are all part of the puzzle where routing alone can take days.
“It takes weeks to get permits,” says Lawrence. Permits from the province, the county, lining things up with the power companies and it all gets more complicated when dealing with Calgary. “I don’t call them and say I’m coming in with this load on this date. I call them and they tell me when I can go into the city…you’re at their mercy,” says Lawrence. It takes at least two weeks to dot the Is and cross the Ts.
And then comes the start of the journey. It takes days to bring together everyone needed to get that monster loaded and on the road. Where the load is placed is a critical factor and there is really “only one shot to get it right”. It is ultimately an issue of time is money. And when it finally is ready to move, other considerations come into play and not all of them serious.
“Just about all the drivers here grew up and our toys and sandboxes got bigger,” says Lawrence. “Who wouldn’t want to come to work and haul 300,000 lbs down the road and then go to the bar and puff your chest out about it?”
Despite that tongue-in cheek observation, Lawrence does stress that safety is always a primary consideration. While any experienced driver can move this trailer, it has a few features to make that a little bit easier. “It has state-of-the-art hydraulic steering which no one else has out there – nobody,” says Lawrence. Accusteel designed it especially for this piece of equipment.
There are three failsafe mechanisms on the trailer to prevent any wandering on the road and if one hydraulic line breaks, there are contingencies. “It would have to be a complete disaster for it to do some damage,” says Lawrence.
“When you get into tight spaces, there are motors on the back that run hydraulics and you can steer it with the remote control,” says Lawrence. A supervisor always goes with this trailer and can see from a rear vantage point if anything goes wrong and can also steer the back when needed but on the highways that’s not needed – it steers itself.
“They cruise at an average of 60 kmph empty or loaded. Without the push truck in the back, that speed drops to 40 kmph because of the sheer weight of it. Unloaded, it weighs 75 tonnes. There is no doubt that this piece of equipment is one-of-a-kind but RyTy has other equipment that isn’t found just anywhere including two of three FN900 Nodwells that exist in the world.
“We have the largest fleet of offroad equipment in Alberta,” says Lawrence. Specializing in heavy hauling, RyTy is intimately acquainted with the petroleum industry and their ‘new toy’ is just one more addition to a busy and successful company.
Do you know someone that has something to say? Do you know of an achievement that we can tell people about? Do you have a technology you want people to know about? Send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org
Business Services & Stakeholder Relations
We have not announced our capital investment plan for 2012, but given the low prices for natural gas, we are taking a conservative approach towards investment in dry natural gas development next year.
We plan to direct a greater portion of our investment towards exploration and potential development of oil and liquids-rich natural gas opportunities. One of our most promising new plays is the Duvernay Shale. We have also reached a series of agreements with midstream companies that will see expansions of the natural gas liquids extraction capacity at three processing plants in northwest Alberta.
As we look to 2012, Encana has established natural gas price hedges on about half of its expected production at about $5.80 per thousand cubic feet. That price is well above current market prices and we put these risk management programs in place to help bring a strong measure of stability to our activity levels in the communities where we operate.
Acting Public Affairs Officer
The outlook for mining coal and metallic and industrial minerals remains promising in Alberta in 2012.
The province is currently experiencing its most diverse period of mineral exploration activity with prospects for opening of several modern era metallic mineral mines in the future. Alberta is also attracting investment in its export coal potential and in its in-situ coal gasification potential.
In the area of metallic and industrial minerals mining, the interest in developing diamond mines in the province has somewhat declined. However, there has been no let up in interest in mining aggregate or salt.
There is new interest in the potential for potash production, with two companies starting exploration along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. The extent to which potash extends into Alberta is not fully known so there is potential for new finds.
DNI Metals Ltd is exploring the use of a bio-heap leach technology at its Alberta Polymetallic Black Shale deposit near Fort McMurray. This process involves extracting metals from the low grade, high tonnage deposit.
There also remains substantial interest and investment in “reverse mining”, or storage and sequestration, within the province.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Canadian crude oil production is expected to continue rising in 2012, following a trend that will take total Canadian crude oil production from a forecast 2.9 million barrels per day in 2011 to 3.5 million barrels per day by 2015. In the longer term, CAPP forecasts total production to rise to 4.7 million barrels per day by 2025.
Growth in the oil sands is expected to account for most of this growth, rising from 1.6 million barrels per day in 2011 to 2.2 million barrels per day in 2015, and to 3.7 million barrels by 2025.
Crude oil production growth is being driven by robust commodity prices and increasing global energy demand that is expected to grow by 47 per cent by 2035 (International Energy Agency).
In the near term, Canadian natural gas producers continue to be challenged by sustained low commodity prices as a result of vast new supplies of gas brought on though advanced drilling and stimulation technologies applied to shale rock geology across North America. However, increasing use of cleaner burning natural gas for domestic electricity production, as well as several projects to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia from terminals on the West Coast may help reduce supply in the longer term.
BC Council of Forest Industries
BC’s forest industry competes globally and staying competitive is a major challenge for the industry. BC’s most important product is lumber, but the big global forest industry players are pulp and paper producers.
And despite the relatively small size of BC’s companies and the negative impacts of the softwood lumber dispute, BC interior lumber companies have worked hard to maintain or improve their relative competitiveness. Marked increases in the lumber recovery factor – a 16 per cent improvement over 10 years – have increased BC interior productivity relative to other parts of Canada.
Energy Services BC
We in Northeast BC are positioned in one of the best regions in the world when it comes to global economics, surrounded as we are by the energy industry. First off, with the oil and gas industry, the mining industry making a comeback, and the talk of the new dam on the Peace River, all attributes are looking very good for the service sector.
Gas prices are at yearly lows, hovering around the $3.30 mark, yet oil prices are $100 a barrel. In many cases dry gas means cutbacks but with the liquid rich gas, producers are moving forward and many companies are diversified in oil and gas.
The service sector for Q1 of 2012 will remain busy. We may see a slight slowdown in the second quarter of 2012, and the Q3 and Q4 of 2012 activity should pick up again. There are a number of large projects taking place at the present time, as well several large projects up and coming.
President & CEO
Trans Canada Pipelines remains focused on five key priorities. The first is to maximise the value of our $48-billion asset base. The second is continuing to optimise performance of $10 billion of assets we recently brought on line in ramping up to full operating capacity. Third, we’ll complete the $12 billion of projects currently in our portfolio and fourth, we will meet all of those priorities with a strong focus on financial performance and maintaining our financial strength and flexibility so that we can continue to re-invest in our core businesses. Finally, we’ll continue to develop future growth opportunities.
Over the last year TransCanada brought online and placed into service approximately $10 billion of projects They include the first two phases of the Keystone Project; the North Central Corridor Project, which is a gas pipeline in Northern Alberta; and the Groundbirch pipeline, which connects the growing Montney BC supply to our Alberta system.
We expect Alberta power prices to remain strong. And we expect improvement in capacity prices at Ravenswood. Together that should add another $200 million-$300 million to our future results, about 45 per cent of that coming from our historic gas pipeline businesses, 30 per cent from energy and 25 per cent from oil pipelines.
Investment of over $6 trillion in energy infrastructure is needed in North America between 2010-35. North America will need power infrastructure of about $3 trillion, natural gas infrastructure of about $2 trillion and oil infrastructure of about $1.5 trillion.
Natural gas in terms of demand in North America is expected to grow by about 20bcf a day over the next 15 years, and it’s interesting to note that 13bcf a day or about 65 per cent of that growth is expected to be in power generation. Turning over to the power side, over the past 10 years power demand has grown at a rate of about 1.3 per cent and we expect that to continue.
There is growing global demand for crude oil, primarily driven by growth in China and other non OECD countries. Surprising to some is that the US demand is also expected to grow between now and 2035 – from about 19 million barrels a day to about 22 million barrels a day.
President and CEO
Canadian Energy Research Institute
It was not that many years ago that conventional gas drilling in Western Canada was considered the big brother to conventional oil and oil sands developments. If 2010 was viewed as the ‘game changing year’ then 2011 should be viewed as the ‘changed game year’ and 2012 as a ‘new game year’.
Oil sands developments, with capital expenditures poised to exceed oil and gas investments, was on track to becoming the ‘big big’ brother of the industry, but now must sit on the side lines and wait for the great debate on pipelines to be sorted out – ‘the new game’.
If conventional gas drilling which was considered the big brother, it has now been regulated to small brother status, at least in the case of Alberta. In Alberta, in 2007 conventional gas drilling accounted for four out of every five wells drilled. In 2011 it will be closer to one out of every five and for the year 2012 that number could be one out of every 10 – ‘the new game’.
The gas industry has changed toward exploring and developing liquids rich gas plays in order to enhance the economics but the bigger story is the resurgence of oil developments. The advent of horizontal well drilling technology is now permitting oil producers to re-enter depleted pools and recover additional oil. The decline in production of conventional oil, which has existed for the past 30 years, should start showing signs of leveling off and starting a growth path – ‘the new game’.
In British Columbia, gas is the only game in town, but the makeup of that game has changed significantly. Drilling expensive vertical gas wells in remote, winter drilling, Northeast BC has virtually been replaced by drilling very, very expensive wells in two separate areas, the Montney and Horn River shale gas plays.
The term ‘go big or go home’ is being played out in these two shale gas areas. The game is one of driving down supply costs through economies of scale, and at the same time evaluating moving energy to Asia instead of traditional Canadian and US markets. The ‘new game’ in BC is shale gas and 2012 is the door-opening phase to a potential five billion cubic feet per day.
Vice-President Strategic Development & External Affairs
Spectra Energy Transmission West
Spectra Energy continues to look forward with optimism – with good reason. Over the next five years the company expects to invest at least $1 billion a year in North America, and its growth strategy is clearly focused on British Columbia.
We have no doubt that gas from the Horn River and Montney, combined with new sources of demand, will provide us with decades of sustainable production, new opportunities to invest, and jobs associated with new economic opportunities for the province.
By the end of 2012, Spectra Energy will have invested about $1.5 billion in an expansive Western Canadian capital program. In the Fort St. John and Peace River Arch areas, the construction of the new Dawson processing plant is progressing well and is expected to come into service early in 2012, with Phase II to follow in early 2013.
With approximately 1.5 Bcf a day of processing capacity in the Montney, and a highly developed gathering network in place, it will be the largest infrastructure network serving the Montney area. Agreements announced recently with Progress Energy Resources Corp. will further bolster its position in the Montney, and see additional capital deployed.
In the Fort Nelson region, a largescale expansion continues within the prolific Horn River Basin and the company is on track to complete the Fort Nelson North processing facility during the first half of 2012. Once complete, the company will have two plant footprints from which it can continue to grow – Fort Nelson North on the east side of the Horn River Basin and in Fort Nelson on the west side.
The company is also very well positioned to support the growth of unconventional gas supplies. In fact, it is currently working on two new expansion projects. The first, which will add 170 million a day in capacity to the T-North Pipeline system, will come into service in early 2012. The second, a response to an additional 550 million a day in long-term commitments from shippers, is currently in development for execution in the 2012-2013 timeframe.
Spectra Energy is thinking well beyond 2012. It foresees a second round of development to come in the Horn River and Montney Basins, not just in their gathering and processing business but also in their pipeline business. There is also a great window of opportunity for infrastructure supporting LNG exports.
Most businesses claim to have great service but out on the streets, consumers gripe about what is, in their perception, a very real lack of service in the North. So when someone raves about the service of a local business, NWB wants to know more.
We all know it when we get it, but what makes good service? We sent our secret shopper (who we will call Anne) into that Grande Prairie business with a list of things to assess including things such as: promptness of service, how well informed staff was, how well they lived up to their promises, how effective follow-through was, how attentive and polite staff members were, how customer-centred staff was, and to note her overall impression at all stages of her experience with the business.
While she returned with a list of high ratings in each area, it was something less measurable that made the strongest impression on Anne. And perhaps that is fitting in this case as business owner Michele Lefebvre of Shade All said he thought mostly good service comes down to “common sense”.
“They’ve already walked in that door. They’ve already made the effort to look you up and come and see you. You might as well treat them well,” said Lefebvre. “‘Once they’re in the door and you’ve treated them well, they’re a customer for life’ is the motto I’ve always followed.”
Anne was sent in with a relatively small job to be done. She noted that from the moment she walked in she was treated well. “They treated me like I was their best customer and that I spent millions there – that’s how I really felt even though I was spending very minimal,” said Anne.
She added that staff was both welcoming and professional from start to finish. One of the more telling comments she made was that she “got the feeling that everybody loved their job and loved being there”.
Lefebvre said he does have a policy of treating his staff very well. He cited one example: to celebrate one employee’s fifth anniversary of working for Lefebvre, he gave that individual a bonus cheque to let him know he was appreciated.
He admitted that it can be hard to motivate the same level of commitment to service in staff, he also said that his staff members were genuinely “awesome”.
Anne agreed. They were prompt, efficient, knowledgeable and pleasant. They went beyond what they promised and went even further. When attempting to book her appointment, Anne reported that they took her schedule into consideration as well as their own – they, in her words, “put the customer first”. “They juggled a few things around to get me in.”
And throughout the process she said she was kept informed and was an active participant in what was happening. Having a good product also helps.
“It’s always better when you’re selling something you believe in,” said Lefebvre. “The 3M stuff we’re selling – in my opinion it just doesn’t make sense not to put it on. Every single person has windows in their house or their car so pretty much everyone needs us.”
And that little extra? The product they work with is the same as the protective coating on cell phones – and Lefebvre will cover phones at no cost to his customers.
Lefebvre said he thinks a great deal of his success comes from his experiences with the Choices Seminars in Calgary. When he returned from his initial seminar, he said his closure rate was 100 per cent for several weeks.
“Every single customer that called Shade All came into my store and spent money, every single walk in but one older gentleman spent money – and he came back in February,” said Lefebvre.
He admits that he has a genial nature that is outgoing and friendly and that it helps him even if the “hustle and bustle sometimes makes me less than chipper”.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation that came from Anne was that she really enjoyed being there, got quality work done and had a great experience from start to finish. “I actually didn’t want to leave. I could have sat and had coffee with there all day,” she added.
Mayors and regional district chairs from around Northern BC recently met in Prince George to discuss a broad spectrum of transportation issues affecting their communities and regions. The two-day meeting was called by Fort St. John Mayor Bruce Lantz and co-hosted by Prince George Mayor Dan Rogers.
NWB: Why did you feel a meeting about transportation issues was necessary?
BL: For as long as I’ve lived in the North, I have had personal experience with some of the transportation challenges residents and businesspeople experience here. Whether you talk about rail, air travel, our roads, even the ferry system on the West Coast, it’s apparent that there are serious deficiencies that we all endure.
Two years ago I attended an ‘Opportunities North’ conference in Prince George and during that meeting, then-
Premier Gordon Campbell said this would be “the decade of the North” and that the North would drive the BC economy. I wondered how that could happen with all the deficiencies we had in our transportation networks. To be an economic driver, as he suggested, you need the infrastructure to make business happen: the ability to move goods to market, to travel for business, and even to provide a geographic area where people were willing to live and work because they know travel within the region (and also outside for business and pleasure purposes) is easy and affordable. There is, of course, nothing easy or affordable about travel in or to the North. Over time, that coalesced into a determination to bring some people together to see what could be done about it.
NWB: Why did you choose to invite mayors and chairs to the meeting?
BL: For one thing, after I started thinking about this, I wound up attending various conferences that included other political leaders from the North. Discussions with them seemed to indicate they shared my concerns and frustrations. It seemed to me that bringing these political leaders together, people who make it their business
to be connected with issues in their communities and their regions, would more likely enable us to get to the root of the problems and identify potential solutions. These are action-oriented people and that’s who I thought should best be at the table.
NWB: What was the objective of the meeting?
BL: We wanted to identify transportation problems in Northern BC, include discussions with experts in those fields, and then roll up our sleeves and try to come up with practical, implementable solutions to those problems. We didn’t want this to be yet another session of complaining and bitching with no solutions offered. Neither government nor the transportation industry needs more of that. We wanted to approach the issues
from the perspective that we all have a stake in the problems and in finding practical solutions to them.
NWB: What type of specific issues did you want to examine?
BL: We looked at the key sectors of rail, roads, air and ports. Problems in these areas seemed to be the most likely impediments to business, and indeed, just living in the North. We figured some other issues might come forward and they did, but those broad areas were seen as the most problematic. Specifically, people were most concerned about highways that cannot handle the increased volume of activity brought about by our economic activity, the complexity and cost of flying around Northern BC since most travel is routed
through Vancouver first, the perception that CN Rail is no longer committed to addressing the freighting needs of the North, and the inability of the Prince Rupert port to handle the increased volume of freight coming its way.
NWB: What were the outcomes of the meeting?
BL: There were several. On the air travel issue we are calling for an ‘Airport Forum’ that will bring together politicians, industry and its regulators to tackle some of the pressing issues. And also, we are calling for more training in the north for airport personnel. Rail is such a complex issue that we want a ‘Rail Service Forum’ held as soon as possible, and we want CN Rail to restore and start building on existing rail infrastructure such as the line between Hythe, AB and Daw son Creek, BC. We want to see improved road maintenance and a recognition of the impact large loads have on our roadways, and we are calling for immediate steps to be taken to improve the major northern highway corridors such as Highways 97, 16, 37 and 5 through four-laning or, in
some areas, just adding more passing lanes. In addition, we’d like to see the Northern Port Strategy developed by government and industry working together, with senior governments providing money for needed infrastructure improvements to ensure that we can move products to the lucrative Asian markets. Finally, we think the BC ferry system needs to be linked with our road system with consultation with local governments and First nations at least twice annually on routes and fees.
NWB: Were any of the issues a surprise?
BL: Two things surprised me. The suggestion that our road systems need to be better linked with the ferry system was something I really hadn’t considered before, and I had no idea there was a shortage of qualified staff at our airports and our airlines.
NWB: What was the single most critical issue?
BL: That’s pretty subjective. I’m sure everyone at the meeting would have their own view on which is most important. For me, it was a tie between the deteriorating condition of rail lines and connections, and the problems with air travel.
NWB: Did the conference meet your expectations?
BL: In most ways it did. Obviously we couldn’t solve all these problems in one session, and more will likely be needed. But I was pleased with the level and quality of participation from communities and regions right across Northern BC.
NWB: Do you think senior levels of government and industry will listen?
BL: I think they have to listen. When this kind of political might gathers in one room then it just makes sense to pay attention. And it’s a great opportunity for senior government and industry to show that they are responsive to the needs and concerns of the people they serve, the people who use these transportation infrastructures.
NWB: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in getting concrete results?
BL: Well, as always when dealing with issues as complex as this, the challenges will be to engage industry and senior government and then keep the pressure on so they know we’re serious about getting results.
NWB: What will be your next steps?
BL: Staff are busy preparing the reports going out to conference participants. Then this material and our recommendations will be going to the spring meeting of the North Central Local Government Association. From that meeting I expect that some or all of these recommendations will go to senior levels of government. Then we hope government will partner with us in ensuring that action is taken. But really, I see this as a start, not an end, to the process. We will continue to meet on these types of issues and to speak with one strong voice.
Surerus Pipeline Inc. is a Fort St. John based pipeline construction company, founded in 1969 by Brian Surerus. He has expanded over the past 41 years from a small contractor, to a large pipeline contractor and last fall Surerus achieved a significant and impressive safety milestone. NWB editor Joei Warm asked him about that accomplishment and what it took to get there.
NWB: Can you tell us about your achievement?
SS: On Oct. 16, 2010 we achieved 2-million man-hours without a lost time incident. That includes all people directly under our supervision – that would be our own employees and subcontractors and our permanent administrative personnel and shop people, but the vast majority of our man-hours come from our projects.
In that time we did have a number of large projects (anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 man-hours per project) which creates more man-hours in a shorter amount of time…and they were all completed successfully without lost time incidents.
The stats that we have are for the last three years. In that time we’ve had over 1,200 different people work for us on different projects, since we’re a project based organization. At our peak, the highest point of time during that period, we had just under 500 people working at one time. That’s where the numbers come from.
NWB: What do you attribute that success to?
SS: Well, there is a great deal of buy-in to health and safety from our leadership and we’ve had some strong supervisors in the field of course because that’s where the man-hours are. We have good connection between our programs and the way that they’re administered in the field. And then we have good leaders on the projects who actually ensure that we do what we say we’re going to do. That’s the biggest key to our success. We have a strong health and safety manager, his name is John Steward, who has really helped guide us in an appropriate and professional direction since his arrival in 2004.
NWB: While most companies have similar goals, not everyone is able to achieve what Surerus has. What do you think sets your company apart?
SS: The key is that the management of the organization has truly bought into this as being something that is an advantage for us and we also have the systems that are set up that really do preclude people from putting themselves into more high-risk positions, high-risk opportunities for injury.
So because we’re organized, and because we’ve had some pretty much consistent work, we’ve been able to use the same supervisors and that’s allowed us to provide more training over the past three years for each of these people. They’re more familiar with the way we work and the way that the projects are delivered and that continuity and consistency is one of the keys for sure in why we’ve had success.
Quite honestly, we still have incidents it’s just the level of severity of the incidents are diminishing and that’s largely through mitigating the potential hazards, being aware of the hazards, and sharing those hazard opportunities with our people.
NWB: Can you comment on the trend toward a greater emphasis on safety?
SS: We’ve started just like everyone else with an industry standard level and we took the reins on our own to make this a core value. In general, in the entire industry the level of safety has definitely improved and it hasn’t always been the contractor recognizing that, that’s important.
It’s been from the owner companies mandating it and of course when they raise the minimum standard, everyone’s standard increases. There’s no question that the contractors have been cajoled essentially into bringing up our standards, but it’s been for the benefit of all the contractors.
The people who work for us work for other contractors or other energy companies all around western Canada so, from our perspective, there’s a benefit to the industry when we are able to have a person come work for us and leave here with a few different skills that they may not acquire on other projects, and we provide them a few tools on the project where they are actively participating. It’s not just top down there’s actually a lot of grassroots involvement in our program.
NWB: Has there been any opposition?
SS: Internally we’ve always had a battle with people who say they’ve done it one way for a long time but I think that with the amount of leadership we’ve had, being able to have the grassroots buy-in – we have a program which is a behavior based opportunity card program that we call the BBOs and we allow our people to participate in a rewards based program based on their activity using these cards and so it’s kind of negated a lot of the pushback.
And of course the majority of the weight goes onto the foreman and the direct supervisors for the guys but I think that when they see that the collective of having success they feel part of it and there’s far less pushback than one would imagine with the amount of paperwork that we have our guys provide us because they see the benefits.
They’re not having to deal with incident reports when their people are making mistakes because they’re making less of them at the end of the day they’re seeing the benefit of having an organized and safe workplace and that’s allowing them to focus on their tasks.
NWB: Does Surerus have a new safety goal and if so, how will you achieve it?
SS: I think that right now we know that we’re fortunate to have achieved 2-million man-hours without lost time incidents and we’re hoping to make it to 3 million. But, I think bigger than that is that we’re hoping to decrease the amount of incidents we have – period – and that’s through better organization.
That’s probably a bigger short-term goal because it does take a lot of time to get to 3-million hours. In the short term it’s actually reducing the number of incidents that we do have. We’re always kind of adding a bit to our program because you can’t just raise the bar so much that people don’t understand.
Right now we’re going through quite a bit more training for our people and that’s not just the foreman side, it’s also key individuals on different crews so that’s one thing that’s definitely occurring with respect to improvements in the organization.
The newest thing we’re adding is a quality management system. We’re developing that right now. We’ve been working on it for about eight months and we have another year to go on it and it ties into safety and organization and scheduling and efficiency and all of those things we think provide a better product to the owner but also will give us an advantage when we’re more productive.
NWB: You celebrated with a unique event. Can you tell people about that and why you chose to celebrate that way?
SS: When we reached 1-million man-hours, it was a bit of a surprise. Someone added up the man-hours one day and we realized how close we were to 1 million so we were pretty much on top of it. When we reached 1 million we placed some ads in the papers thanking our people and subcontractors for their hard work, and then when 2 million showed up, we thought that we would save that money from the advertising world and actually put it into something the community could participate in. We brought in a speaker from northern New York named Eric Giguere who had been buried alive.
It’s an appropriate kind of speaker for what we do because we deal with trenches and people in our industry at times feel that they should be in ditches when they shouldn’t be. This individual made it through an incident where he was buried and was pulled out dead essentially and was revived, and he spoke about how it affected his life.
We hosted an event for the other contractors in town and the energy producers and we invited as many people as we could think of and we ended up with about 80 people attending the session. This is the kind of person who speaks generally for foremen and managers at conferences and we thought this was far more appropriate for the regular guy who is actually the guy doing the work.
It was a great success for us in that we did get to go and deliver that we’ve achieved a significant milestone, but we’re doing something a little different. We’re not just patting ourselves on the back; we’re giving something back to the community.
NWB: Do you have any final comments for our readers?
SS: I always thank our people for choosing to work with Surerus because they have a lot of options in the world of construction. We feel that when someone comes to work for us and they leave us, they are able to go home safely and they are going to be able to take with them something to their next place of work that’s going to keep them aware of what’s going on and be able to potentially improve another organization’s concept of safety.
After several months of political unrest in British Columbia, including the resignation of the premier, as well as the loss of two energy ministers in six months, the announcement of government restructuring plans and, of course, the HST hot potato, BC is looking less and less like a place to invest.
Northwest Business checked in with South Peace MLA Blair Lekstrom to get his thoughts on how the current situation is perceived and what he thinks needs to be done to rectify the situation.
NWB: Do you see the current political instability in BC as a problem for businesses?
BL: You know I think there’s some uncertainty now. I think business is looking to the government and saying whatever’s going to happen, let’s get on with it. Let’s find some certainty with this HST issue. The vote, whichever way it goes, at least we’ll know where we’re going to be. That’s why I believe we should expedite that vote.
I do think businesses are looking right now at British Columbia and saying for heaven’s sake let’s get things worked out one way or the other. All business looks for certainty. When they’re going to invest their money they want to know there’s a pretty stable environment to do that and right now, they’re probably thinking that isn’t the case at this point.
NWB: We’ve lost two energy ministers in the last six months. How do you think that’s affecting people?
BL: Probably very similarly. I think the uncertainty is a concern for them. Although I left the ministry, I have stayed in close contact with the industry doing what I can to ensure that we’ve got a good environment to invest and at the same time, staying in contact with the people that live there to ensure we look after what we have.
Does it create some challenges and a bit of uncertainty in the industry? I think it would. I think they’re looking for something to say let’s get a leader in British Columbia, let’s get a minister of energy in there and I’m not sure what their thinking about the government reorganization but I certainly would have to believe they’re wondering what that’s all about because I certainly don’t see that as a positive move for the resource sector.
NWB: What can you say to help alleviate people’s fears?
BL: If anything, I guess I would say we have to rebuild the government and rebuild the trust of the public in government.
At the end of the day we can create a great environment for industry and business to invest and operate in BC, but if the public is always dissatisfied with what’s going on that’s not positive for anybody.
If I had to say something I would say we’ve got the greatest province in the country and we’re going through a bit of a ripple here right now but I tell you what – we’re going to get it together here one way or another.
NWB: What do you think is causing this instability?
BL: I think it’s broader than just British Columbia. I think when you look around not only North America but around the world right now I think people, and I’ve thought this for quite some time, people are finally tired of the old way of politics, are tired of the Government and opposition always fighting. I’ve always believed that as a government you bring a piece of legislation forward and you put it on the floor of the Legislature and if the opposition has a better idea, why wouldn’t you embrace it? I’ve never seen that yet but ..
People are just looking for some common sense and to be honest with you, probably a little more maturity. It’s embarrassing to watch the way question period operates not only in British Columbia but across the country.
If there’s anything, I think there’s a real kind of inner feeling, I’ll speak to British Columbia but this transcends us, that they want a change in how things operate, they want this extreme partisanship to come to an end. They’re going to elect the government that most closely aligns with what they believe will build a stronger province, but they also expect that government then to listen and engage the public in discussion and right now that’s not happening.
NWB: A lot of the comments from the public recently seem to focus on supporting the more ‘maverick’ approach, a more independent and less party based style of politics….
BL: I know exactly what you mean. When people run for a party, they try to align themselves closely to a group of issues that you think will build the province and that doesn’t mean you will agree with them all. What people do expect from their elected official is that they will represent their constituency first and then their party, and right now we don’t have that in our political system.
We have people that are elected by the people that for some reason or another may very well go against the wishes of the people that elected them in order to stay in line with the political party they represent and that is just completely backward in my mind. So what I think the public is saying, and what I’m certainly experiencing is, “Thank you, you put the people that elected you first and then the party,” and I’ve had a great deal of support over that one.
NWB: Is there a solution that will change something that is that entrenched?
BL: Definitely and I think it has to go back to what I just said; that as a political party that there are a few key issues that you do want the support on and that would be the budget and the throne speech. Everything else is wide open to a free vote and this will sound crazy but the Premier gave us that ability to do that. I exercised that. Many didn’t – for whatever reason.
We have to have our elected officials feel comfortable enough in the system that they can speak for their constituents first and if that means voting against a government bill that they’re part of, then so be it.
I don’t think you’d see a piece of legislation hit the floor of the Legislature if the majority of the MLAs in that party didn’t support it but, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with, if there’s 50 people on one side and you need 40 votes, there’s nothing wrong with a good number of people speaking out and disagreeing with it and knowing the government is going to bring it in but recognizing that the people that elected them don’t stand behind it and voting against it.
Do I think it can be saved? Yeah and that’s the way I think we’ve got to get it done.
NWB: While the upheaval is happening politically, is the mechanics that underlie that still solid?
BL: I think it’s still solid. I think that right now in British Columbia there’s a lot of internal questions among the staff with this new government reorganization that the premier announced just recently. I think it’s raised a lot of eyebrows and concern to be honest, with people wondering why.
Different people experience staff in different ways but our public servants; we have some of the best public servants in the world. It’s their job and they take it very seriously and the vast majority of our people are very proud of what they do.
So, they’re concerned. When they see what’s going on right now, the government reorganization that is very hard to explain what the benefits are, I think they share concerns as do most British Columbians.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. While there are more women actively involved in industry than there has ever been before, these days, more things are the same for them than are different, said Val Lipka, Schlumberger district manager.
She’s a great example of how women have come to be embraced by industry and can not only hold their own in what was once a man’s world, but can excel when they chose to. Here is one woman’s view of the changing face of industry in the North.
NWB: Can you give us a little background on yourself and how you ended up choosing to work in what was previously a male dominated industry?
VL: In college, I was working doing books for oilfield service companies and then from that I achieved my Business Administration majoring in accounting and then worked for an accounting firm specializing in oil patch industry corporate income tax and from that moved to accepted and there’s many women in the oil patch now. It took me a little longer to gain the respect and prove myself as a woman but once I did gain the respect of people in the industry, I believe that I get more respect than some men just because I had
to prove it instead of it just being given to me. I had to prove to them that I knew my stuff. I can’t complain. I deal with shock when people first realize I’m the manager but I don’t deal with disrespect and I mean that from all ages. I deal with older gentlemen that traditionally would not imagine a woman in this position. I deal with them fairly regularly and they’re 100 per cent supportive. Men have forgotten a little bit about the difference between men and women. I think they’re moving ahead.
NWB: What is it you love about being in industry?
VL: The adrenaline rush, honestly. It’s a fast paced lifestyle. There’s never the same day twice. There’s never the same problem
twice. I strive for the stress as much as the stress – well you sit and wonder why you’re not the greeter at Walmart. I would be bored. As much as I hate it I can say I hate my Blackberry I obviously don’t. Deep down I think I strive for that stress. I think it keeps you alive.
And partially, and I won’t deny it, sometimes deep down I think I am there to prove a point. I don’t know. I just want to be fulfilled in myself. The job keeps me alive, for sure.
NWB: Do you find any challenges you weren’t expecting?
VL: I don’t think there was anything I wasn’t expecting. I think it was exactly what I expected. I expected to have to prove myself. That was my major concern getting into the industry. I think in some ways it’s the opposite. The illusion of there being that prejudice against women isn’t as bad as we think.
NWB: What advice about going into this type of work do you have for young women who are looking for where to plant their feet?
VL: Don’t think you should go in and get special considerations because you’re a woman. Take a job that you can do Val Lipka, Schlumberger district manager. Grande Prairie and was hired as an administrative assistant for Smith. That was my major move into the industry. From that I gained interest in the industry to a higher extreme and started working in the shop while I was still an administrative assistant, just more because I wanted to learn. From there I went to a dispatch position and that has evolved to being the district manager for Grande Prairie and Fort St. John. It was kind of a strange flow compared to some people. It was just proving that I could do it and in my opinion, Smith went in a different angle and instead of the traditional manager that worked in the field for years and then was promoted up into management, when they promoted me, they went with the business angle so they could run it more like a business. They took a shot with me, and I can learn and have learned; she knows business so let’s teach her the field and I think it’s been successful so far.
NWB: Do you find that women are being given more opportunities than they used to be?
VL: For sure. I think there is still an oldschool frame of mind in some cases, but I can’t speak for the whole world but from what I see, I haven’t had a problem being physically and mentally but don’t let gender hold you back. Learn what you need to learn and go in there ready to get the job and I think you’ll get it.
NWB: Do women have an edge because they start out knowing they have to go in and prove themselves?
VL: In that sense, yeah. If you look at the successful women in the patch, we’ve all gone in head down, rear up, ready to work and prove ourselves and then with that, since we’re not kind of riding on the coat-tails I think we do move up faster because we are working harder at getting there. I know of women that were the trailbreakers. They’re high up in Calgary now and they would have been breaking in, in the ‘80s and wow, you know? That
would have been a totally different frame of mind than what we’re facing in 2000. Those are strong women.
NWB: What changes do you see in how people view energy?
VL: I definitely think the industry is putting a smaller footprint on Mother Nature now. Everybody is way more conscious
about the environmental impacts this industry has and I hope that people out of the industry are seeing that. As soon as one small thing happens they think it’s a humongous issue but they don’t look at how much the industry’s change to leave
a small footprint. Sometimes horrific events happen but horrific events happen in forestry, they happen in everything. I do strongly believe that the industry as a whole is trying to do things with a smaller footprint, do things economical, more efficient and with that society is starting to do things more efficiently too. People are starting to understand that gas is a resource that could potentially run out some day. Even if you think of the safety that’s out in the oil patch now; right form the oil companies to the service companies
down, safety has become probably one of the strongest interests that they have. Guess what? People are resources too and I do believe that the safety is protecting the resources of the employees more than it used to be. In the ‘80s there probably wasn’t a lot of calls to say I’m not coming. There was a blizzard and they just drove. Now, I will make that call. I do not want to explain to somebody’s wife why their husband isn’t coming home because the gas just had to get out of the ground. I think that’s starting to be realized; people are our most important asset so let’s put them first. The dinosaurs have been dead for three million years they can wait another day.
NWB: Has the industry really grown up in this region?
VL: Definitely. In the last few years, and I believe, but I’m not in New York or Toronto, but I strongly believe we’re the hub
of the oil patch right now. For sure in Alberta if not for the Canadian oil patch. For being such a small area, especially if you think about Huston, it’s a remote area, what’s coming out in Grande Prairie, through Montney and the Horn River up into Fort Nelson…? And I hope that we’re starting to be acknowledged as an important part – there is more than Fort Mac to the industry. There’s two sides to it. We’re the natural gas producers up here. Fort Mac has the oil sands but we have the gas.
NWB: Is there anything you would like to say to people who will be reading this?
VL: I hope that people that aren’t in the industry are starting to self-educate about the industry, especially on the environmental
side of things. To see that the oil companies are not horrible creatures that are raping and pillaging Mother Earth
for no reason. It comes back to that tiny footprint. They try to be the most efficient, the least damaging. We’re not a horrible industry
that’s coming in and ripping up land and spilling into the seas and rivers and streams. I do think when you get to the bigger centres that are out of our industry, I think people need to get educated before passing judgment on our industry. Oil companies aren’t horrible. They are trying their best. Even if you look at the BP spill in the gulf; people that don’t know about the industry, I don’t know if they think BP went out that day hoping? Is that what they think? That when we go out we hope that we’re going to have a horrific wreck and we’re going to kill all the marine life? I’m pretty sure BP didn’t wake up that morning thinking that’s what they were going to do. Horrific things happen but nobody talks about the thousands of good things they do in order to keep Mother Nature the way it is too.
NWB: If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?
VL: In some ways, it’s this thing that draws me the most to the industry. It’s strange to me that it’s the first thing that
popped into my head. As much as I strive for the stress, in some ways it would be nice to slow everything down once and a while. People will think I’m crazy and looking for a crash. Really it’s more about finding a balance between the fast-paced industry and still have a social life – to still have the passion and excitement for the industry and still take time for a social life. I think we all do it. You get so enthralled in your job and suddenly your social and personal life comes so far down the list.
When his ‘dream job’ became available with the resignation of Blair Lekstrom, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett jumped on the chance to wrestle with the Kraken of BC politics – the energy portfolio.
Not only is he confident he can manage the many-armed monster, he is excited by the prospect of sinking his teeth into the province’s energy issues. NWB interviewed Bennett to find out what that means for this region.
NWB: Can you give our readers a bit of your history as an introduction?
BB: I’m 60 years old, have been married for 36 years to the same woman, and I have two grown sons…one works in the mining industry and the other in the tourism industry.
I owned fly and fishing lodges when I was a younger man, worked in that industry for a long time as an employee, and then bought my own places and worked in them.
When I was 39 years old and went back to school and got a law degree at Queens, moved out West from Ontario – that’s about 20 years ago now. I practiced law in Cranbrook until I found myself involved in provincial politics and was elected for the first time in 2001.
NWB: What are you passionate about?
BB: I’m a rural guy. I’ve lived in small towns my whole life. I got into politics because of my beliefs and passion for rural issues.
I am very, very passionate about the resource industries in the province and I think sometimes the importance of resource industries is underestimated. If we didn’t have the oil and gas, the mining and the forestry industries in this province, and in particular with the forest industry being somewhat weakened these days because of the US economy, if we didn’t have the oil and gas and mining, we would not be able to keep our hospitals open, our schools open and we wouldn’t be able to be sending folks all the support that they need.
I don’t think that we can overestimate the importance of making sure that government does everything government can do to create a competitive, positive investment climate in the province. It’s absolutely critical in my opinion.
NWB: What about this portfolio appeals to you most?
BB: I have been at this business 10 years now and I should tell you this has always been the job I wanted the most. Everybody internally, like the premier and my cabinet colleagues and many, many others in the province, have known that.
I was Minister of State for Mining a couple of years back, around 2005-2007, but this is the portfolio I always wanted to have. Of course, Dick Neufeld had a very firm grasp on it for many years and there wasn’t an opportunity until Blair packed it in.
I stay in touch with both (previous Energy Ministers) Blair (Lekstrom) and Richard (Neufeld). I met with both when I was in the Northeast and I will continue to use Richard in particular, as a resource for local information and just information on the industry and so forth. He’s a very knowledgeable guy.
NWB: What challenges does this portfolio bring for you?
BB: From the minister’s point of view, the major challenge is just in the diversity and the sheer volume of the issues you have to deal with. You’ve got everything from independent power projects, to run-of-river projects on the west coast, to wind projects around Dawson Creek, to the issues around the shale gas industry in the Horn River Basin and Montney, Liard, Cordova Embayment.
They have their own special issues and you’ve got issues around Site C. Just that one file alone would keep most ministers busy. I do have a Minister of State for Mining, which is a big help, but I’m ultimately responsible for that as well.
Specific to the oil and gas industry, I really think that although it looks like we’re booming – we’re selling lots of unconventional gas tenures – we’re really going to have another good year this year, I am concerned that with the discovery of shale gas in other parts of the continent closer to the major markets, and I’m talking Quebec, Pennsylvania and New York, BC can’t afford to let its guard down.
We need to be competitive. We need to make sure that we attract the level of investment that it takes to keep the industry going and you couple that with a low gas price and we just need to be vigilant. We need to make sure that we don’t let Alberta or some other jurisdiction pass us by.
NWB: Is there anything you need to be looking at in that regard?
BB: I’m always watching our Royalty Credit Programs. We’ve got deep drilling, summer drilling, infrastructure…but I’m always keeping an eye on our Royalty Credit Programs to ensure that we are doing what’s necessary to provide the encouragement, the incentive to the industry.
Number two; I’m always looking at our regulatory system for the industries to make sure it is responsive. Governments that are known to have a slow approval process and to be overly bureaucratic – investment money tends to flow away from those jurisdictions.
We have to stay on top of that. We have to make sure that our Oil and Gas Commission maintains its competitive advantage over other jurisdictions.
We are told by the oil and gas industry we’re the best place in Canada to invest right now and we need to make sure we stay that way; that goes to the regulatory process, it goes to your royalty credits, and I think it goes to your taxation – we have the second lowest corporate taxes in the country; we’ve got the lowest personal income taxes in the country – and beyond the specifics that I’ve mentioned, it also goes, I think, to the general attitude of the province toward industry and toward investment.
Money will move really quickly, we know that from the mining industry, and so our province needs to make sure that we keep the welcome sign up for industry while at the same time, respecting the folks that live on the ground close to all this activity.
NWB: Energy and Mines is one of the more important portfolios for the Peace. What do you bring to the table?
BB: I live in the southeast part of the province in Cranbrook. It is a natural resource extraction based economy. We have most of BC’s coal mining in my riding. We’ve got all of Teck Coal’s metallurgical coal assets here, we’ve got a forest industry here and a strong tourism industry as well.
We’re quite dependent, ironically, on the oil and gas industry in Calgary for our real estate development/golf course/ski resort development industry. That’s a big part of our economy here as well as resource extraction, but that part of our economy is also tied to resource extraction in the sense that when the patch is doing well, our economy here seems to do well so I’ve got a natural connection to Alberta because of where I live and how interconnected we are economically and socially.
NWB: Following on the heels of two locals, and in light of the historical sense of disconnect people in this region have felt, is there anything you can say to alleviate any fears that the needs of the region might be less-well represented by someone who doesn’t live here?
BB: I understand and empathize totally with the sense of alienation that people in the northeast of the province feel being the only area of the province that’s east of the Rocky Mountains. We feel, even though we’re west of the Rockies, I can tell you, and Blair Lekstrom and I have talked about this many times over the years…my constituents feel just as alienated as they do in the Northeast.
It’s easy to get forgotten way over here. People don’t know where Cranbrook is. They don’t even know we have a coal industry. So, I have some understanding because of where I live and because of my own personal background of having grown up in small towns and always lived in rural areas.
The first thing I did was go up to the Northeast after getting the appointment. Basically what I did was I went up on a relationship building tour. It wasn’t so much a tour of the oil and gas industry, we did a little bit of that, it was more a tour to talk to mayors and regional district directors and business people and Chambers because I know there would be some anxiety, understandable I think, that here’s this guy that’s not from the Northeast and we’ve always had the minister from the Northeast.
I think I was received well and I think it’s my commitment to rural issues and my commitment to work closely with people and be collaborative that I think will be of some comfort to the people that live in the Northeast.
Just because I don’t live there doesn’t’ mean I don’t care about them. I’m an outdoorsman, I hunt, I fish, I snowmobile, I own a quad, I cut my own firewood, I heat my house with wood. I’m that kind of a person.
There’s not very many provincial politicians who still hunt actively and live the lifestyle that I live and it’s a lifestyle that people in the Northeast are very familiar with, so when they get to meet me they usually feel pretty comfortable. I think that’s important to people.
I have to be there on a regular basis. I also have to make sure that when we have an individual or a group from the Northeast that expresses concerns about whatever it might be…we have to take those issues very, very seriously. We have to show people that yes the gas business is important to the people of BC, and yes we get lots of royalties from it, but it can’t happen in a vacuum – it happens where people live…we just created some new setback rules and that’s the kind of thing we need to do.
I met with the Peace River Regional District…and they went around the table and listed things they were interested in. They mentioned these landfill sites that the industry needs.
You’ve got companies competing in that business, and competition is good, but shouldn’t government, both provincial and local government maybe stand back and say, “how many of these sites do we really need”, independent of what companies themselves want to do in terms of competing with each other, “and is there a more strategic way to site them”.
Those are very practical, useful suggestions from local government and that’s the kind of stuff I want my staff to follow up on.
NWB: What’s your view on industrial transportation issues?
BB: This industry’s hard on transportation infrastructure. As long as this industry is as vibrant as it is, and active as it is, today, there’s going to be an ongoing need for major transportation investment and I think we’ve seen it in spades from our government and I think you will continue to see that.
CN and Ridley (Terminals) is something I have a particular interest in because of my former job as Minister of State for Mining.
We absolutely have to do everything we can to improve the rail transportation out to the coast. I think you’re going to see, if the price of metallurgical coal stays up, which it appears it’s going to, I think you’re going to see some bigger players moving into the Northeast, which will mean more coal being transported by rail.
The other part of transportation…that’s absolutely critical is the pipelines that people are arguing about right now. You’ve got liquid natural gas that is going to be a critical part of the growth of our industry.
When I was up in the Northeast I heard from people how important it is to get a pipeline out to the west coast and a plant out there somewhere – that’s going to change the face of the gas industry and should help shore up the price of gas.
And then there’s the issue of oil coming through from Alberta as well.
NWB: What do you see as the major issues for resource industries over the next year?
BB: Number one, the economy in China; number two, the price of commodities; and I think investor confidence, given the situation with the US economy.
NWB: What do you see as the future of energy generation in this area?
BB: The Northeast is today a key region in terms of energy development because of the oil and gas, because of the mining that takes place there, and because of the Peace River system. Site C will add to that. If Site C gets its environmental approvals it will add 900 megawatts to the importance of energy creation.
You’ve also got one major wind farm that’s up and running and another one that’s in the works.
You’ve got tremendous potential for wind energy. It’s a place that has a lot of natural attributes so I think you will see a lot of electricity generated.
I think there’s a very good chance that Site C will succeed and go ahead and I think you’ll see a growth in wind as well. I also think there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll see the gas industry continue to grow.
This liquid natural gas potential is absolutely gigantic. We’ve got the natural gas and right now our biggest customers are the US and eastern Canada.
If we can liquefy it and ship it to Asia, it just changes the face of the industry because it’s priced differently than the gas that we sell to the US. It should give companies a better margin, which will encourage them to invest more and explore more.
NWB: Is there anything else you would like to say to people in the Northeast?
BB: I’m very accessible and I hope they will pick the phone up and call me if they have a concern, or send me an email. I don’t think the fact that I live in Cranbrook should make any difference to people in the Northeast in terms of how responsive I am as minister and how interested I am in the area.
I’m a rural guy just like the previous two ministers. I come from a region that is very, very similar to the Northeast. We’re right beside Alberta.
We have all the same sales tax issues and all the same issues with Alberta businesses coming and doing business where I live in the East Kootneys.
I look forward to doing the job and it’s a honour to have the portfolio and I hope to be around for a long time.