Notley appoints 3 envoys to find solutions to oil-price differential

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is appointing three "special envoys" to work with energy sector experts and CEOs to find solutions for closing the oil-price differential.

Jason Kenney urges energy companies to voluntarily cut production in order to push up prices

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced Monday she is appointing three envoys to find solutions for closing the oil-price differential. (CBC)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is appointing three "special envoys" to work with energy sector experts and CEOs to find solutions for closing the oil-price differential.

The envoys are:

  • Robert Skinner, University of Calgary School of Public Policy.
  • Brian Topp, Notley's former chief of staff.
  • Coleen Volk, deputy minister of Energy.

The trio will work report "directly to me" and their work will begin immediately, Notley said.

"This is about trying to engage with industry players," she said. "As you know, [industry leaders] can't come together and make decisions because the law doesn't allow for that to happen."

Notley said Monday the price gap, now at a "historically-high" level, is costing the Canadian economy more than $80 million a day.

The price of Western Canadian Select closed at $17.43 US a barrel on Friday. Meanwhile, the American benchmark price, West Texas Intermediate, closed at $57.02 US.

Western Canadian oil prices crashed in September because of a backlog of oil in Alberta.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney asks energy producers to voluntarily reduce output. (CBC)

Oilsands production has increased throughout the year, but export pipelines are full and several refineries in the U.S. that process heavy oil from Alberta are shut down for maintenance.

The situation prompted Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix to call for the Alberta government to mandate temporary production cuts to help correct what he termed an "emergency."

Other companies, including Suncor, Husky Energy and Imperial Oil, said they believe the market is working and the government should not get involved in production cuts.

Notley was asked Monday if she is considering measures to curtail Alberta oil production, or if she would act if a recommendation to cut production was put to her by her new oil-price envoys.

"There are a number of options in the suite of options," she said, "and there are no options that have been taken off the table at this point."

Jason Kenney, leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party, told reporters in Calgary Monday he is calling for energy companies operating in the province to voluntarily cut production in an effort to push up prices.

"Right now we are in a situation where we need immediate action to at least clear out some of the excess inventories of Alberta oil," Kenney said.​

"This resource does not belong to a couple of highly-integrated international oil companies. It belongs to the people of Alberta."

Kenney  said he's not ready to rule out government action to force production cuts, but would prefer to see it happen with voluntary measures because "most Albertans believe markets should try to protect themselves."

If prices don't recover in the long term, the province could experience "a total failure of investor confidence," he said.

'A non-partisan way'

Kenney said he wrote a letter to Notley on Monday afternoon, offering to work with her and her new envoys "in a non-partisan way" to find solutions to the oil-price problem. He also plans to call for an emergency debate on the issue in the legislature, he said.

However, Kenney and UCP house leader Jason Nixon criticized Notley for choosing Topp, her former chief of staff, as one of her envoys. 

"We have an NDP insider from Ontario who has spoken out against the oilsands, who has attacked our energy industry in the past who now the premier says is going to be the champion of our and gas industry and get this problem fixed?" Nixon said.

"No. It's just not acceptable."

Also Monday, Notley announced a new "energy upgrading unit" to prioritize the upgrading and refining of more of Alberta's energy resources within the province.

The team will report to the Office of the Premier.

"By doing this we will take more control of our economy and more control of our future," Notley said.

More announcements on efforts to increase upgrading and refining in Alberta are expected in the days ahead, she said.