Loose Ends Energy Inc.: A Terrible Waste Of Talent

By Bill Whitelaw, president and CEO of JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group

Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau and their respective caucuses should know something about Canada’s newest energy company.

It has some of the most talented “management team members” and “staff” in Canada’s upstream petroleum sector. Its men and women have experience touching virtually every molecule in every formation in the WCSB. They’ve put Canada on the world energy map with their knowledge and talent; their experiential DNA can be found in most global basins, leading the way in sustainable and responsible petroleum development from one end of the molecular spectrum to the other.

They’ve been key to building Canadian energy competence reputationally in all hemispheres. It’s an investor’s dream team. But this new team has no assets to develop, no business strategy to execute, no shareholder value to create — and no economy to which those efforts can contribute.

The company?

“Loose Ends Energy Inc.”

Right now its management and staff are walking the streets of Calgary and rural Canada.

Not running world-class safety programs. Not solving cost and productivity challenges. Not outthinking complex geology. Not imaginatively brainstorming climate and low-carbon solutions.

Contributing nothing. Innovating nothing.

But to many — including political leadership — they’re just statistical casualties; collateral damage in a campaign against fossil fuels that has no real understandable shape or form.

That’s a brutal way of describing the fate of the cohort of talent that’s been stripped loose from Canada’s oilpatch, both from oil and gas operators themselves, but also their key service providers and suppliers all the way along the value chain.

It does nobody any good, least of all the Canadian economy, to have so much talent at loose ends. Some people will be slowly assimilated back into the sector; some will bite the retirement bullet and others will drift to other sectors perceived to be more stable and valued by political leaders of the day. But no one has been adding up the price of that talent loss in a way that surfaces the real consequences for Canada’s energy future. As well, no one has tallied the subset loss that represents the quantum of time and money involved in recruiting and training the talent pool in the first place.

It’s not a reach to say that this represents the single largest, and most sudden, knowledge capital loss in Canadian corporate history. Any politician who doesn’t “get” that the foundation of a vibrant and vital energy mix future is based on a healthy and robust hydrocarbon economy needs a lesson in basic economics. A petroleum sector that knows it needs to evolve to survive in the mid- and long-terms is incented to be innovative and responsible. Not only will it provide the dollars required to drive the innovation wheels forward, it will also provide something perhaps more important in terms of investment: the motivated human capital.

These men and women may have cut their teeth on hydrocarbon development, but that perhaps is the best training for tackling an uncertain energy future in which fossil fuels will still figure prominently.

Indeed, the knowledge capital loss has been so enormous that the impact on the slowing innovation investment toward sustainable resource development is almost incalculable. A secondary but equally important consequence is that young men and women on post-secondary campuses across the country, reading the political tea leaves, are making career decisions that don’t include oil and gas — especially ironic in that the creative technical and business challenges that would shape their careers are arguably more exciting than ever.

Politicians have with the public’s uninformed permission wound back the innovation and investment clock by at least a decade — and in doing so have impaired the efficacy and health of the very system that can help contribute to effective climate change and carbon reduction initiatives. There are many ways to describe what amounts to a lack of political will to come to terms with that reality; the most charitable perhaps is political and economic inexperience.

It’s a bit of a conundrum: so much experience pitched overboard; so much inexperience brought on board — at a time when Canada needs experienced leadership to guide it. Talk about a vacuum.

As a result those politicians seem to be oceans apart, literally and figuratively, on the market access dynamic that would resolve so much of this mess. Politicians cannot control commodity prices and market behaviour directly but they can profoundly shape the business environment and political and regulatory frameworks in which better prices can be realized.

Pipelines, of course, are central to achieving the tidewater access that will inject a spirited competitive advantage back into Canada and reposition and repurpose its global role.

Unfortunately, the Loose Ends Energy team won’t be part of helping resolve the impasse to which Canadians and their elected leaders have navigated themselves.

Seems such a waste.

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