Rising optimism in the Canadian oil and gas industry prompted a higher 2017 drilling forecast on Monday, but doubts continue to swirl about Canada's ability to compete for future energy investment capital with a Donald Trump-led United States.
The Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC) said it expects 5,150 wells to be drilled in Canada this year, up 23 per cent or 975 wells over the 2017 forecast it released in early November.
But Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, warned the longer term health of Canada's oil and gas sector is at risk because of competition from the American pro-business policies of President Trump.
PSAC president Mark Salkeld acknowledged that the oilfield services industry, despite slowly recovering with better oil and gas prices, is still far from healthy after more than two years of falling activity.
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"We had a field services sector in Canada that could drill 10,000 to 12,000 wells per year and we're only drilling 4,000 or 5,000," he said.
"Even though a lot of equipment was sold and a lot of people were let go, there's still a lot of capacity to do more than 5,000 wells per year. So we're still hurting."
PSAC said a total of 4,100 wells were drilled in 2016 in Canada, down from 11,226 wells in 2014 and 5,394 in 2015.
Analysts expect higher oil prices will result in generally higher fourth-quarter profit reports as Canada's biggest oil companies roll out their fourth-quarter results over the next month or so.
The earnings parade starts with Imperial Oil on Tuesday.
McMillan said at an event in Calgary he is worried about investors taking their money to the United States instead of Canada.
"Some of the policies the U.S. government is talking about — bringing more federal lands on, lowering corporate taxes, looking at their regulatory standards — with the express purpose of being more competitive and attracting more capital, is something we need to be very mindful of," he said.
"We have reached out to governments across Canada and federally to say we think that this requires a Team Canada approach at the highest levels."
He said a key answer is building new pipelines to create alternative markets to the United States for Canadian oil.
At the same event, Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said the province is already meeting with the federal government and Canadian industry players to talk about enhancing Canadian competitiveness.