‘A handout without addressing the root cause’: Oil industry recoils at Ottawa’s $1.6 billion loan offering

CALGARY — The federal government unveiled $1.6 billion in new loans and financial support for beleaguered Canadian oil and gas companies Tuesday, but energy executives said the funding won’t solve their problems.

Ottawa said it is setting aside $1 billion in financial support from Export Development Canada for companies to make capital investments and buy new technology, another $500 million in new loans over the next three years from the Business Development Bank of Canada, $100 million for energy and economic diversification projects, and $50 million for an unnamed oil and gas project.

“When Alberta hurts, so does Canada,” Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in Edmonton on Tuesday as he and Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr announced a funding package designed to boost the oil and gas sector as it struggles through a period of low commodity prices and lack of new export pipelines.

“It’s the availability of capital at a tough time. It’s significant when companies will need it,” Carr said of the funding, adding the federal government is continuing to work on advancing new pipeline projects the industry has said it desperately needs.

“Nothing is more important than building pipeline capacity,” Sohi acknowledged, noting that Ottawa understands the need for more pipelines and that the loans were an interim solution until those pipes, including the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion purchased by Ottawa for $4.5 billion, are built.

Oil field workers watch as Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr, left, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, centre and Randy Boissonnault, Edmonton M.P. speak during press conference to announce support for Canada’s oil and gas sector, in Edmonton on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Frustrated oil and gas executives said they appreciated the offer of support, but the loans would likely not be used until new pipelines were built.

“Don’t frustrate all of Canada by putting this financial burden on them with a handout without addressing the root cause,” Whitecap Resources Inc. president and CEO Grant Fagerheim said of the financial support. “It isn’t overly helpful to the Canadian oil and gas space.”

Both Fagerheim and Advantage Oil and Gas Ltd. president and CEO Andy Mah think companies wouldn’t want to take out new loans, even if they’re offered at lower interest rates, until they know the loans can be repaid.

Don’t frustrate all of Canada by putting this financial burden on them with a handout without addressing the root cause

Whitecap Resources Inc. president and CEO Grant Fagerheim

“We’ve got a revenue problem. We need to have more revenue coming in the door,” Mah said, adding that Canada needs “many” new pipelines built and a better, faster process for pipeline approvals.

“They’re not listening. There’s a disconnect. It just seems to be like, ‘here’s a Band Aid’,” Mah said of the loan announcements.

Both Fagerheim and Mah said they don’t expect to use the federal programs announced Tuesday, but there will likely be some small and micro-cap oil and gas producers, distressed companies and potentially some oilfield services providers that may apply for the loans and financial supports.

Sohi said the funding was available immediately.

“I do think there’ll be some uptake, but I’m not sure it’ll be as broad or as helpful as the federal government is hoping,” Tristan Goodman, president of Explorers and Producers Association of Canada said Tuesday, adding the offer of financial assistance is “an attempt to move forward.”

Financial analysts were divided on how effective the funds would be for the oilpatch.

They’re not listening. There’s a disconnect. It just seems to be like, ‘here’s a Band Aid’

Advantage Oil and Gas Ltd. president and CEO Andy Mah

The funds were “absolutely” helpful as oil and gas companies’ “balance sheets have taken quite a hit.” CIBC Capital Markets associate energy specialist Joan Pinto said.

“I’m hoping that this would be the same sort of action that the federal government took when we had softwood lumber tariffs coming into play,” Pinto said, adding that low-interest loans at that time helped the forestry industry through a difficult period.

GMP FirstEnergy analyst Bob Fitzmartyn, however, called it, “the worst possible message they could send,” adding that the loans would be interpreted as a subsidy.

“I don’t know who’s going to take advantage of borrowing money. Maybe people getting their (credit) lines cut?” he said, adding that companies are not currently replacing their equipment or investing in new equipment given the outlook for oil and gas prices.

West Texas Intermediate oil prices slid 7 per cent at one stage Tuesday to US$46.19 per barrel, its lowest point this year.

The Environmental Defense Fund issued a release following Ottawa’s funding announcement calling the move “another massive backslide on its longstanding commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.”

The EDF said the federal government’s has made Canada the largest supporter of the oil and gas industry in the Group of 7 industrialized nations.

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