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Northern Opportunities: A Pretty Good Deal
Ryan Gilmore was frustrated with high school and considered dropping out. Then he learned of the dual credit programs offered by the Northern Opportunities… [read more]
Open to Everyone
Nicole Schartner says she is glad to be in the Power Engineering program at GPRC (Grande Prairie Regional College) Fairview Campus not only because she… [read more]
Fort St. John: Energized & Ready to Roll
Priding itself on being a family friendly community, Fort St. John still manages to find plenty of room for industry and business. “There’s tons… [read more]
Education Expands its Role
With an increased labour shortage looming, governments and educators in the West are scrambling to find measures to offset what could be, and in some cases… [read more]
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.
The Northeast Aboriginal Business & Wellness Centre Society is dedicated to providing business support and advisory services to aboriginal entrepreneurs while offering programs enhancing spiritual, mental, emotional physical health and wellness.
Their client base includes the Fort Nelson, Prophet River, Halfway River, Blueberry, Doig River, Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations. In the past five years the centre has assisted aboriginal people in Northeastern BC to expand or start more than 60 businesses and access more than $4.5 million in funding. Similar centres exist in Prince George and Cranbrook, BC, as well as Fort St. John.
Paulette Flamond began as a member of the founding Board of Directors of the organization and soon after became their executive director. She is herself an entrepreneur, owner of Scoop Clothing in Fort St. John.
NWB: Can you provide a little background on your organization?
PF: In 2002 there was a meeting of the Treaty 8 chiefs and leaders of the oil and gas industry, and they believed there was a need for a centre to assist aboriginal entrepreneurs interested in working with the industry. We started in February of 2003 with funding for three years from the treaty negotiations office. I was on the founding Board of Directors and then that April moved to the position of executive director.
We started with seven staff at a time when Fort St. John was smokin’ busy, and by 2005 we had helped 30 entrepreneurs start businesses in the oil and gas industry. Then we lost our original funding but the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation and Western Economic Diversification stepped up so we could continue. The number of staff has been cut in half but we continue to provide the service, last year assisting with six business startups and two expansions.
NWB: Have you seen changes in the way you operate since you started?
PF: Eventually we saw more diversification away from just oil patch businesses and into more service-related and retail operations. Now, with developments in the Horn River Basin and the Montney area, people are looking at new opportunities for oil patch work, and there may be other opportunities if the Site C dam goes ahead. There’s potential there but how big it will be I don’t know.
When we started most of the business plans we saw were for ‘Mom & Pop’-type operations. But now the (aboriginal) communities are focusing on their own business. It’s sad to see the Mom & Pops go because small businesses like that are the backbone of our economy.
NWB: What specific services do you provide to your clients?
PF: The first thing we do is an Equifax credit check. We don’t want to waste the clients’ time or ours if they aren’t going to qualify for funding. Then we give a Business Plan Guide to the client; sometimes they can complete these themselves but often we help them build their business plan and we have a Certified General Accountant on staff to help them with their financial projections for the plan.
We are available to help them with their research but we want to empower them so most often we just assist; some require more coaching than others, obviously. These days, people are pretty savvy and many can pout together the whole package themselves. Then we have funders from All Nations Trust come up, or we submit the material to them and Aboriginal Business Canada. The turnaround on these is good – usually 4-12 weeks. We also have access to the First Nations Fund set up in the 1970s in BC, which offers loan/grants which is funding that is 40 per cent forgivable.
NWB: What are the goals of the society?
PF: First and foremost, we want to keep our funding in place. It ends in 2011. These centres have shown they do work and are a good resource for the clients, especially since they are culturally sensitive to the clients. We want to maintain the status quo but we have also expanded our focus to meet some needs. We’ve added the “Wellness” component, a partnership with Northern Health, as an add-on to our business services.
By offering wellness programs and coaching we can show clients a more holistic approach to living. To succeed in business there must be personal wellbeing. It’s all about balancing your life.
NWB: What is hardest for First Nations entrepreneurs going into business for themselves?
PF: The industry is an old boys’ network so it’s hard to break into that. There are also territorial boundaries and issues in which an aboriginal entrepreneur may not have permission to work in another First Nation’s territory. Plus, if they life on a reserve their access to capital is difficult because they don’t own their own home and thus they lack equity.
NWB: What do others need to know about doing business with First Nations-owned businesses?
PF: It is very important to know the protocols involved in working with First Nations people and to have some cultural understanding. It’s worth it to take some training in this regard, and to approach them from a position of respect.
It’s helpful to get involved with their communities and most of those in the industry understand that and are getting involved. Ultimately, we’re all the same and we operate in the same world. First Nations just have their own culture and that needs to be respected as you would any other culture.
NWB: What unique perspectives do aboriginal entrepreneurs bring to business and industry?
PF: They bring their unique perspective on the land and also their knowledge of the territory in this area. And they have the capacity and talents to do the work, given the opportunity. It’s a really untapped rich resource that isn’t being utilized; people don’t realize the potential. Aboriginal people, many of them, operate in both worlds, and that’s a great resource.
We’re producing a Service & Trade Directory for aboriginal business and that will contain good news stories and information about partnerships with industry. That will help people understand, and if they can understand our role in arts and culture too, it will open peoples’ eyes to what’s taking place here.
NWB: What do you see in the future for aboriginal people in business in Northeastern BC?
PF: If you had asked me two years ago I would have said everything was going down the tank. But now I’m optimistic, and that’s largely due to the impact of the Horn River and Montney gas plays and the potential of Site C. There’s no doubt in my mind that aboriginal entrepreneurs will thrive in the future and will be more in control of their own destiny. There’s lots of opportunities coming up and they will thrive and grow.
Arguably, the most important provincial portfolio for the North is that held by the Ministers of Energy. The demands of a rapidly evolving energy sector, and how those ministers respond, is key to the economic and social viability of Northern communities on both sides of the border.
In Alberta, that portfolio has switched hands from a northerner Mel Knight to Calgary based Ron Liepert. NWB checked in with him about his first few months in that position.
NWB: For readers that are unfamiliar with you, can you talk a little about your background and why you chose to get into politics?
RL: I think first, start with the fact that I have a media background. I spent eight years in radio and television and I was covering the Alberta Legislature in 1980 and Peter Lougheed offered me an opportunity as press secretary. I was with him for five years until he retired in ’85 and that would have been my real introduction to politics. Between ’85 and 2004 I was involved in the background if you might. I ran a number of political campaigns and then decided to run in 2004 and here we are.
NWB: What other portfolio’s have you held?
RL: I was Minister of Education from the time Premier Stelmach took over in December of 2006 until the provincial election in 2008 and then after the election in March of 2008 I was Minister of Health for almost two years and then in January of this year, the Premier appointed me Minister of Energy.
NWB: What has been the biggest difference between this portfolio and your previous positions?
RL: Both education and health are on the social side and there’s a lot of passion around education and health. Energy, you’re dealing with, basically, people who just want to get at it and get the job done, so I think that would be the biggest difference.
Clearly, when you’re dealing with energy, you’re dealing with individuals and companies that are talking billions and even though heath care and education are major expenditures, a $5 item in health or education seems like a major decision. So, I think it’s just the magnitude of it but probably most of all, it’s the passion.
NWB: Has the portfolio handed you any surprises?
RL: I wouldn’t say surprises. It’s clearly it’s a learning experience because I don’t have an energy background, but I wouldn’t say there are any surprises. Energy is so incredibly technical, trying to figure out the difference between a megawatt and a kilowatt is not something that the average guy on the street understands or cares about but, I have to try and figure that out and so it’s not so much surprises as, I would say, trying to learn and understand the technical aspects of the energy department.
NWB: Having had a few months to get your feet under you, what are your personal priorities for your ministry?
RL: First of all, the very first priority was to complete and respond to our Competitiveness Review, which we’ve now done, because I think the result of that work really helped us rebuild trust between government and industry. That was a big first step.
We have challenges when it comes to international natural gas pricing and I think we need to work with industry to figure out either things that we can do that can help them through what is going to be a period of low prices…but, we also need to try and work with industry to ensure that we’re capturing all of the benefits of our oil and gas industry and I would say those are probably what we’ll be focusing on over the next period of time.
NWB: Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to in the coming months?
RL: Obviously, we want to ensure that those who derive their livelihood from the energy industry continue to do so and that we’ve got policies in place that allow small communities across this province to thrive because the energy industry is the heart of thriving rural communities. Some of that has not been as strong in recent months, in the past year or so, and that’s where I think we need to work toward rebuilding.
NWB: What do you see as your biggest challenges in this ministry?
RL: Well, the natural gas situation is the biggest challenge right now and unfortunately that is out of our control. We need to work with the natural gas industry. Listen if they have suggestions and ideas of how to meet those challenges, we’d like to work with them.
I think also working with the power producers, transmission providers to ensure that we’ve got electricity to continue to drive our industrial development in the future because electricity is a big part of the energy portfolio as well.
NWB: What about infrastructure? At least in the Fort McMurray area that has been a challenge.
RL: It was in the past but we’ve really caught up a lot in the last few years. We appointed the Oil Sands (Sustainable Development) Secretariat. That secretariat’s been working for three or four years now and it’s really pulled together the needs so that we’ve had a focused effort. Lots of work still needs to be done and it’s going to take time – such as dividing Highway 63 – those kinds of things. In terms of the immediate infrastructure in the Fort McMurray region, we’ve actually made tremendous progress there.
NWB: Has the recently released Competitiveness Review changed how you will approach dealing with Alberta’s energy sector?
RL: I don’t think it’s changed it but what it has done is, as I said earlier, allowed us to rebuild trust in one another and we want to, as a result of the work that was done through the Competitiveness Review, we want to ensure that we continue to use that model going forward, where we work with industry and that’s been very well received.
When we released the Competitiveness Review, I didn’t look at that as the end of a process, I really looked at it as the beginning of a process so that’s how I see it rolling out – as a more cooperative approach.
NWB: Do you have any special energy projects you would like to promote as minister?
RL: I don’t think there are any special projects but we clearly have a couple of announced policies that will result in projects that we need to follow through on. Under the BRIK Program, Bitumen Royalty-in-Kind, we now have proposals that we’re analyzing to award that contract and we have the four carbon capture and storage projects that we’re working with the four proponents to get all of the letters of intent done…(these) are the ones that will require immediate attention.
NWB: A Pembina Institute report (see page 32) on in situ projects didn’t give a very favourable assessment regarding their environmental practices. The report stated that on average mining produces lower emissions than in situ development. Can you comment?
RL: I wouldn’t make any comment other than the fact that, whether it’s the Pembina Institute or it’s the Faculty of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, when a report is done and released publically, I make sure that our department takes a look at it and analyzes it and if there are good recommendations, that we listen to them. That’s where it’s at now; the Pembina report is being analyzed by our department.
NWB: The oil sands have seen significant funding either to support development or support the research associated with improving production there. In light of the Pembina report, is there anything you feel needs to be adjusted in the province’s approach to oil sand development?
RL: I can’t comment on that until we analyze the Pembina report. It’s a particular institute’s report, it’s not a government report so we want to analyze it and if there are some adjustments to be made, we’ll look at them.
NWB: Ministers often build on the successes of their predecessors. What successes would you like to build on?
RL: I made it very clear that I’ve been very fortunate, especially using the Competitiveness Review as an example, an awful lot of good work was done by my predecessor Mel Knight, in getting the Competitiveness Review to the stage that it was when I took over the portfolio.
I mentioned earlier, carbon capture and storage, Bitumen Royalty-in-Kind; these are all policies that were put in place over the past three years and so those are successes that I clearly need to and want to take through to fruition.
NWB: What would you like to say to the people that depend on the energy sector for their livelihood?
RL: Well, I think what we need to do is we need to be more open and supportive of the energy industry. It’s the economic driver of this province and we shouldn’t apologize for it and we need to be proud of what’s been accomplished in energy in this province. We have leading technology, leading environmental policies, and we shouldn’t be at all defensive and we should be proud of the fact that it is the economic driver and over the next couple of years in this portfolio, I want to make sure that people around the world realize that.Click here to get in touch with the author of this post
Site C is a proposed 900-megawatt hydroelectric dam project that’s been talked about for 35 years. It’s slated to be built and operated by BC Hydro at a site six kilometres southwest of Fort St. John on the Peace River, and could provide about 40 per cent of the province’s electricity production. The project would take seven years to build, and employ a peak of 2,000 construction workers, plus other indirect jobs.
The project was initially proposed more than 60 years ago, declared dead after being rejected by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) in the 1990s, and revitalized by a feasibility study released at the end of 2007. With a looming provincial goal of electrical self-sufficiency by 2016, the Site C question is far from over.
Greg Amos caught up with Peace River Regional District chair Karen Goodings and Hudson’s Hope Mayor Karen Anderson to ask their opinion.
NWB: How strong is the business case for building the Site C dam?
KG: If I can put a provincial outlook on it, I would say that there is huge benefits to the province in the end, because they will have power to export. I don’t think the business case for having power within the province is that strong.
KA: I think it’s quite strong right now. Looking at the economic growth in the Northeast right now, with Horn River going in out of Fort Nelson, they’re looking at building a transmission line from this area up to there. We’ve never produced power for that area before; I think that alone is something they can use, in terms of 500 megawatts up there.
At the Peace River Regional District (PRRD), they’re saying there’s a lot more going on in the Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd areas, and they’re talking about a 230-kilovolt line coming out of Dawson Creek to service that area for the future development down there. And just the growth in domestic use of power period.. something has to take over if we continue to use the power we do.
NWB: With the Site A (W.A.C. Bennett) and Site B (Peace Canyon) dams, did the promises of economic benefits beforehand actually materialize in the region?
KG: I think they’ve worked very hard over the last two years to have some of those promises come to realization. It’s a shame that it takes this type of initiative for Site C to fulfill what we thought would be a given under the other dams. Some of the work over the past two years has been relating to promises made with the building of the W.A.C. Bennett dam; they finally extended some power and did some of the things they said they would do.
KA: The stage is stage 3, the regulatory and environment process, and I think that’s a must for this process. That’s a two-year stage, and I don’t think we could possibly decide whether to build Site C without that regulatory and environmental assessment being done. The information that they gathered on that some twenty years ago is not current.
NWB: Have you heard about a ‘Peace Valley Trust’ that could be set up to share the financial benefits of Site C across the region?
KG: We certainly have been talking about it at the regional table. I would hesitate to call it a trust; I would like to think of it more as an energy legacy, and I definitely don’t want to connect it to just Site C, or to Site C as being kind of a carrot. What we do see is this part of the province has been, over the years, very instrumental in the province’s well-being, financially, and we believe that there should be a legacy left here. Oil and gas, electricity, coal; no matter what you look at, there should be a legacy left here.
KA: I think something’s going to be set up, whether it becomes a trust or a legacy. The communities and the PRRD are looking at that right now, and haven’t really made any commitment as to which way they want to go.
NWB: Could the Fair Share agreement be a template for this legacy, or would it be along the lines of an endowment or some other format?
KG: We haven’t gotten that far into the discussion; we have charged our administrators in the seven municipalities within the regional district to put their heads together. If we need outside help, we are interested in bringing that outside help in.
KA: I don’t know. I think if anything, it might be based more on the Columbia River Trust that they have in that area.
“What we do see is this part of the province has been, over the years, very instrumental in the province’s well-being, financially, and we believe that there should be a legacy left here.”
NWB: From a regional economic perspective, how significant would the loss of 4,600 hectares of agricultural land be if Site C were to be approved?
KG: It depends a little bit on which economy you’re speaking of, because right now we know agricultural is suffering big time. If you’re talking about dollar-wise benefits for the province or for the people, it’s a little difficult to say that it would be a huge economic perspective. If you look at the type of land that it is, the Class 1 farmland which we do not have a lot of, and the climate that is associated with that valley, it’s a huge loss. We need food to survive, and with the growing populations in the world, I think we need to look after our land. We’re not making any more of it.
KA: The loss of any agricultural land is significant; agriculture is important to this area. It’s something that is important to everybody. I think we need the land rather than having our food processed; more people are looking at the organic way of living and buying their produce.
NWB: What other factors might make or break the case for Site C? Could the cost, First Nations negotiations, and potential for slides make or break the case?
KG: Certainly all three of those things – we know the Peace hills are prone to slide, so that is an issue for us. I’m expecting if the province decides that the dollar cost doesn’t scare them away, if they’re going to move ahead, that they will do an extremely careful examination under the environmental assessment process.
KA: The cost – we haven’t even come close to realizing what the cost of this project is going to be. I think BC Hydro’s going to have to find some kind of business partners or investors to go in with this; I don’t think right now they have the expertise, as they haven’t built a dam in many years. I think the cost is going to be huge. Another thing that’s going to be huge over the next couple of years is negotiations with First Nations.
NWB: Do you expect the project will get the green light to move onto its next stage this spring?
KG: Indications say yes; it certainly sounds that way when you listen to the province about various initiatives such as transmission. We know they’re going to have to have added transmission to handle the power (from Site C), and I’m thinking that it likely will happen this spring.
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In this issue:
• Safety: Bill of Goods or Best Practices?
• Forestry Rebound
Oil sands image linked to cooperation
CALGARY – Oil sands company leaders hope collaborative endeavours will improve their image.
The latest alliance, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), was announced at a Calgary press conference early March.
Talisman announces sale agreement
CALGARY - Talisman Energy announced an agreement with Xstrata Coal to sell certain non-producing, non-core coal properties located in northeastern British Columbia for US$500 million in cash.