Sunset Industry?

It only took two years for Alberta’s technology-leading oil and gas industry to go from representing the backbone of Alberta’s economy to being a “sunset industry”. Perceptions are a funny thing. Two pivotal changes brought on this malaise. First, horizontal drilling and fracing (i.e. fracking or fracting) technologies enabled a very large increase in USA oil production. Secondly, OPEC flexed its production biceps and reminded world economies that it is they who dictate the price of oil (for now).

I am the first to admit that the economic upside-down cake in Alberta gives me pause. But, I do have to ask, is oil and gas really a sunset industry? Many Canadians seem to think that hydrocarbon energies from the Earth represent a practically Neanderthal technology that will readily and soon be replaced. However, if the past tells us anything, it is that this is an unrealistic statement. I was a teenager in Alberta in the eighties. Back then Alberta’s oil and gas economy had fallen on rough times, having been staggered by the National Energy Program that was coupled to lower world prices for crude oil. I was taught that oil and gas were never going to recover in Alberta because we were out of economically recoverable resources. I was heartily discouraged by Alberta geologists from even choosing Geology as a career!

All that changed as Alberta’s heavy oil deposits became economic. For nearly 20 years, from 1995 to 2013, Alberta’s resources became again the backbone of its economy and an important contributor to Canada’s economy. Now it is about 20 months into a serious downturn and one can watch as an entire province (or country!) jumps off of the ship. I think it is crazy.

Consider this. Alberta still owns the largest exploitable volume of oil in the world. Yes, it is heavy oil, but OPEC’s reserves are shrinking at a far faster rate than Alberta’s. The day when it is Alberta that holds the cards is only decades away. What are the wild cards in that deck? One would think that it is how far technology can advance alternative energies such that they rival the economic position of oil, and I suppose that if civilization is waning and there are no growing economies for the next 20 years, everyone is in trouble.

Let me know what you think. Is Canadian Oil and Gas finished?