Trump's decision on the Paris accord and what it means for the oilpatch

Officially, the oilpatch says Trump pulling out of the Paris accord is bad news. Unofficially though, it's pretty low down a long list of problems.

The oilpatch has lots of problems right now. How big a deal is the U.S. pulling out of the Paris accord?

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday he was pulling the United States out of the Paris climate pact. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

An interesting thing happened after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris climate pact. The stock markets, which were nearing the end of their day, popped up, with the Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all closing at all-time highs. 

It's on the list of oilpatch problems, but it's not at the top of the list.- Martin Pelletier, Trivest Wealth Counsel

U.S. oil shares were higher, no surprise there; but so were Canadian energy stocks. When you take into account currency fluctuations, the Canadian energy sector performed in roughly the same manner as its competitors in the U.S. in those last 30 minutes of trading. This despite the fact that the U.S. sector dodged a carbon cost that the Canadian industry will bear.

This is partly because, since election day in November, there was little expectation of the U.S. imposing a carbon price of any kind under a Trump presidency. But it's also because the Canadian energy sector has bigger fish to fry. This isn't even the worst thing that happened to the oilpatch this week.

It's on the list of oilpatch problems, said Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager with TriVest Wealth Counsel. "But it's not at the top of the list."

Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager with TriVest Wealth Counsel, said there needs to be an "environment that is conducive to lowering the cost of oilsands development, so that we can compete globally." (Colin Hall/CBC)

Canadian companies being courted by Texas

It is on the list because of questions of Canadian competitiveness.

"In the last few years, the U.S. has become our biggest competitor, with respect to the oil and gas industry," said Mark Salkeld, the chief executive of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada. "They're our biggest customer and now they're our biggest competitor. By the president making that decision, in essence it makes the playing field un-level."

Salkeld's association represents oil services companies, many of which have operations in the United States and others that are being courted by U.S. states.

"Texas has approached Canadian oilfield services companies to consider doing business in their state, other states as well; North Dakota, Ohio," he said.

Short-term pain, long-term gain

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is not calling for Canada to roll back on our climate promises, but is looking for relief elsewhere.

"With the U.S. as Canada's largest competitor for oil and natural gas development, we should be focusing on a variety of issues that improve our competitive advantage," said Chelsie Klassen, a spokesperson for CAPP. "Such as tax reform, continued focus on international relations and the foundation of trade for our natural resources and Aboriginal relations." 

To roughly translate: a tax break would be nice, and please make those pipelines happen, so we can sell oil to other countries.

Pelletier agrees. "Create an environment that is conducive to lowering the cost of oilsands development, so that we can compete globally." 

There is also the argument to make that Canada, by staying the course on climate change, will be forced to adapt to the inevitable, ultimately leaving the U.S. in our wake.

"When we think about what climate action really means for Canadians, it means economic diversification," said Erin Flanagan of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank.

"It means growing our clean technology sectors, growing our technological solutions to produce natural resources in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way. It's about economic transformation."