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My oil sands book, now on Kindle.

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Published : May 17th, 2019
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Bitumen: The people, performance and passions behind Alberta's oil sands by [McKenzie-Brown, Peter]
I recently posted my award-winning book Bitumen: The people, performance and passions behind Alberta's oil sands, on Kindle; here's a link.

This book covers the written record of Alberta's oil sands - the world's second-largest petroleum resource - from 1715 to the present day. The focus is on men and women who contributed to the enormous scientific and technological advances that enabled the oil sands sector to become a petroleum giant. Equally, it reviews recent developments that make much of the sector at best marginally economic.

According to renowned petroleum historian Earle Gray, the book "is a powerful addition to the corpus of writing about Canada’s petroleum industry. But it is more than history: it is an account of current challenges and visions of future possibilities. While he focuses on the vast oil deposits in the Alberta oil sands, he also sheds wide-ranging light on other aspects of the Canadian petroleum industry’s history.

"The author "has weaved his story from an impressive array of diverse sources, as well as intensive and extensive research," Gray continues in his foreword. "The result is a must-read for anyone interested not only in the history of the Canada’s oil business, but perhaps more importantly, Canada’s economic history.

"The Petroleum History Society's Clint Tippett adds, in the Afterword, that "there are still major hurdles ahead if we are to truly fulfil the promise of the oil sands. Extracting the bitumen and upgrading it are intensive both in terms of energy use and of greenhouse gas generation. Transportation and market access continue to be challenges.""It remains to be seen whether the Canadian oil sands sector will be nimble enough to avoid becoming roadkill, or at least become significantly restricted," he says, "in either a fundamental economic sense or through the global controversy concerning greenhouse gases and global warming."

Calgary-based economist Peter Findley, whom he cites, offers a different perspective. Although oil sands production growth “has been impressive and robust since 1999,” he said, “it seems that the more production barrels that come online from the massive heavy oil basin, the more headwinds arise that operators must overcome to deliver a return to increasingly impatient investors.” Operators had little to show from their investments, he said, “even before the oil price rout.”

In this bust a “lacklustre” job market elsewhere in Canada (except B.C.) contributed to Alberta’s pain, added Todd Hirsch, another of several economists cited. In effect, individuals in the workforce voted with their going elsewhere.“The nasty recessions of the 1980s saw tens of thousands of people pack up and leave Alberta, resulting in a drop in the size of the work force,” he said. “During the darkest days of 1987, the province saw more than 1.2 per cent of its workers leave or drop out of the labour market. This repeated itself during the recessions of 1992 and 2009-10.”

"One reason was that those earlier busts coincided with stronger economies elsewhere in Canada attracting the province’s unemployed," the author says. "Alberta’s pain this time around got no such assistance – indeed, new international immigration made matters worse.  Unemployment reached 8.6 per cent, the highest since 1994. "Gradually, though, things got better. After touching US$26 per barrel in February 2016, West Texas oil prices doubled within a year. At this writing, the worst of the bust seems behind us."

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Peter McKenzie Brown is the vice president of a resource company. He has written several volumes of history, and has worked in the corporate and academic worlds. He is British by birth, American by upbringing and Canadian by choice. Disclaimer : Although the writer is a director and officer of Stratabound, the thoughts and views herein are his only and not those of Stratabound. He is not registered in any jurisdiction as a broker or investment adviser, so nothing herein should be construed as advice on whether to buy, sell or hold shares of Stratabound or any other company mentioned herein.
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