The Alberta government is looking to boost the province’s petrochemical sector with a new program that it expects will attract up to $5 billion in investment.
Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade says the Petrochemical Diversification Plan, could bring 2 or 3 new energy processing plants to the province, and thousands of jobs in the bargain.
Darren Bilous says a total of $500 million dollars worth of royalty credits will be provided to new plants that turn raw natural gas products into materials used to make plastics, textiles and other goods.
Bilous says the idea is for the petrochemical companies to trade or sell the credits to natural gas producers, which can use them against their royalty payments.
“Instead of shipping our raw energy resources and the jobs that go with them to places like Texas and Louisiana, we are instead adding value to them here at home.” says Bilous.
For each new plant built, the government says the program has the potential to employ up to 3,000 people during their construction and more than 1,000 directly and indirectly, once production starts.
In the case of Methanex, the program could help expand their facility here in Medicine Hat that turns methanol into methane. The company announced back in 2013, that it was looking to twin its production plant here, at a cost of $1-billion.
Economic Instructor Carol Hillson says it’s a good idea in theory. Hillson says, “energy costs go up and down, and if we have something that underpins that on a value added basis that provides employment, even when commodity costs are low, that’s great.”
But Hillson says it’s not that easy. She says the problem with low commodity prices, in the case of natural gas, is that there is very little supply for companies to rely on in making future expansion plans.
That is exactly the case with Methanex, who the government touted as a company that could benefit from this announcement.
Last week Company CEO John Floren said there will be no expansion here in Medicine Hat until the company secures a long term gas contract. With natural gas hovering around $2 per gigajoule, Floren doesn’t see suppliers lining up, wanting to sign a contract to provide gas to the company for the next 10 to 20 years.
Kevin Henderson is the Vice President for North America for Methanex. He says, “it is our desire to continue to add value to the Alberta economy through our ongoing and potential future operations. We will be reviewing the details of the new Petrochemical Diversification Plan once they are released later this week.”
But Hillson says you can create incentives all you want, but if nobody uses them ,then you are no further ahead. Hillson says, “maybe it’s worth it if only a fraction of the industry rises to these opportunities, but there’s a lot more challenges out there than creating more incentives for more jobs.”
Hillson says the government’s plan will however be of no hope to those who are out of a job and looking for work right now.
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