Saskatchewan: Let's Play

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is on a mission. He wants the world to know his province is shedding its reputation as the land of lost opportunity.
Some NAFTA-bashing during last year’s presidential election and the more recent “buy American” provision for steel in the Obama Administration’s massive economic stimulus bill has prompted Wall and the premiers of Manitoba and oil-rich Alberta to go on the road–including Houston this week–to promote trade and cooperation between their provinces and the U.S.
The rectangular province Wall says is “hard to spell but easy to draw” is awash in natural resources. It’s the Saudi Arabia of uranium and potash, which is primarily used as a fertilizer, as the world’s biggest producer of both. It’s got a quarter of the world’s mustard and roughly a third of the world’s lentils.
Growth in those industries is helping Saskatchewan–with a population of 1 million, about half the number of people as in the city of Houston–add thousands of jobs despite the global recession.
Saskatchewan also is a major oil and gas producer trying to come out from the energy shadow of its big oil sands neighbor, Alberta.
In recent years Alberta has gotten most of Canada’s energy attention with oil sands that have an estimated 173 billion recoverable barrels of oil over an area roughly the size of Florida.
Saskatchewan also produces 17 percent of Canada’s oil output, largely from its part of the massive Bakken formation that stretches from North Dakota and Montana into the province. It holds 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable crude, the U.S. Geological Survey said last year.
The province also has 10,000 square miles of undeveloped oil sands, and is eager to join hands with U.S. companies and combine technical know-how to recover that crude in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible.
“Our message to companies, if they’re interested in developing in Saskatchewan with innovation around more sustainable energy, is that we’re not just going to cheerlead and welcome you and issue a permit,” Wall said. “We’re going to be your partner.”
However, Saskatchewan likely will have to wait for a rush of takers. The downturn has prompted the industry to retrench and avoid expansions or new projects in operations–like oil sands–that are too costly with crude in the $40-a-barrel range.
However, a report released today by the Canadian Energy Research Institute says the global recession and severe plunge in oil and gas prices has stalled expansions and new projects.

“While the price of oil and the global economy are expected to rebound in 2010, it will take another two years before oil sands production growth resumes,” the report said.

But Wall, an optimistic type, is OK with that. The interim will allow time for more study of how to improve technology to extract crude while cutting down on the big-time emissions that have generated heated environmental concerns at the Alberta operations.
“Lets’ find answers around cleaning up oil development. We can do that,” he says.