June 20th, 2019

Handling the energy industry booms and busts

By Letter to the Editor on April 13, 2019.

I have seen in several places that the 18 coal-fired power plants in Alberta is a puny number of plants compared to the 700 in China. If we take the 1.4 billion people (est. 2016) in China divided by the 700 coal-fired plants, this gives approximately two million people per coal-fired plant.

When the 4.1 million population (est. 2016) of Alberta is divided by the 18 coal-fired power plants, this works out to 226,000 people per coal-fired plant.

How does two million per plant in China compare to 226,000 per plant in Alberta?

How many of those 200,000 workers unemployed from the patch that I have seen quoted are due to OPEC increasing production to reclaim market share with the resulting price drop? Have the Bakken or Permian formations allowed for cheaper production with our neighbour to the south? How many of the layoffs are due to major construction projects being completed and then need much fewer people to run when operational? Has automation had an impact on rigs which now require fewer people to run?

Data from the Government of Alberta’s own website has oil production still increasing and looks like it has doubled from about 8,500,000 cubic metres in January 2009 to 17,000,000 cubic metres in January 2019 in a rather steady upward trend of 850,000 cubic metres per year. (see https://economicdashboard.alberta.ca/OilProduction). If there was an impact due to a change in government one would expect a change in slope in the tend line. Sorry, I don’t see it.

What is going on? Why are fewer people needed to work in the patch but the production is still increasing? I think we need to look at automation of processes and the fact that construction has finished on major plants. Will a new government force employers to hire back people they don’t need?

Instead, maybe we should work co-operatively with our neighbours and fellow citizens across the country to get more interprovincial pipelines and energy corridors built for all energy sources (oil, gas, water/hydro, solar, wind, geothermal and tidal). It might smooth out the boom and busts in costs we pay as citizens and give workers employed in these areas across the country employment stability.

Hugh McLean


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