Investor confidence in Alberta oil and gas industry lags behind U.S. states

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Appeared in the Financial Post, December 7, 2017

With continued obstruction of pipeline construction and regulatory uncertainty, investors see a gloomy outlook for Alberta’s oil and gas industry compared to some U.S states. The province also continues to languish near the bottom of Canadian jurisdictions in investment attractiveness in the oil and gas sector.

Indeed, this was reflected in this year’s iteration of the Fraser Institute’s Global Petroleum Survey, which tracks the perceptions of investors eyeing jurisdictions worldwide. The survey spotlights policies that govern the oil and gas industry (royalties and taxes, duplicative regulations, etc.) and make a jurisdiction attractive or unattractive to investment.

While Alberta’s overall score in the survey improved slightly this year, investors remain cautious. Alberta’s investment climate remains far behind 2014 levels when the province ranked 14th (out of 156 jurisdictions). In 2016, Alberta fell to 43rd of 96 jurisdictions and moved up to 33rd of 97 jurisdictions this year. Despite Alberta’s slight rise, the province remains the second least attractive jurisdiction to invest in Canada. Tellingly, more than 50 per cent of respondents in 2017 see fiscal terms and taxation as deterrents to investing in Alberta.

Not only is Alberta performing poorly within Canada’s borders, Alberta’s (33rd) rank is also well behind international competitors such as Texas—the most attractive jurisdiction in the world based on policies—Oklahoma (2nd) and North Dakota (3rd). In fact, this year, six of the world’s top 10 jurisdictions are in the United States, compared to only two Canadian jurisdictions (Newfoundland & Labrador and Saskatchewan).

So what has damaged Alberta’s attractiveness in the eyes of oil and gas investors?

Since 2015, the Alberta government has increased corporate income taxes by 20 per cent, implemented a carbon tax, and introduced a new slate of environmental regulations including a cap on emissions from oilsands production.

Meanwhile, across the border we’ve seen precisely the opposite. President Donald Trump is implementing sweeping energy-sector reforms that cut taxes and regulations. Trump’s administration is opening additional lands, suspending onerous regulations, dropping international greenhouse gas obligations, allowing oil exports and promising to cut taxes on business. And President Trump’s latest tax plan calls for a reduced corporate tax rate, from 35 per cent to 20 per cent. The current direction of the Trump administration is likely to exacerbate the U.S. advantage over Canadian jurisdictions, including Alberta, in terms of investment attractiveness.

This raises a key question: why would investors put their money into Alberta as opposed to U.S. states, if governments north of the border insist on increasing taxes and regulations?

Alberta’s poor ranking in this year’s Global Petroleum Survey, relative to U.S. states, should concern policymakers. Policy decisions matter. And adding costs and regulatory uncertainty to an industry still reeling from low oil prices is a step in the wrong direction. This will only push future investment away from Alberta while U.S. states ramp-up efforts to attract investment.

To improve Alberta’s image in the eyes of investors, the Notley government should pursue policies that are both competitive and stable, for the benefit of Albertans and their families.

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