CNRL flags uncertainty over royalties, taxes with new NDP government in Alberta

CALGARY – One of Canada’s biggest oil and gas producers said Wednesday it can’t make future spending decisions until it gets a better handle on the new Alberta government’s plans for royalties, taxes and environmental regulation.

But NDP Premier Rachel Notley said, if anything, the province’s lack of progress thus far on combatting climate change has been the bigger cause of uncertainty for the industry.

Energy giant Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) was to have held an open house for institutional investors on June 17 featuring detailed presentations by executives, but that’s been deferred. A conference call will be held that day instead.

“Due to the current uncertainty surrounding the Government of Alberta’s review of royalty, taxation, environmental and greenhouse gas policies, detailed future capital allocation plans for each of the company’s assets cannot be finalized at this time,” Canadian Natural Resources said in a release.

Notley said after the NDP’s inaugural cabinet meeting in Calgary that when it comes to climate change rules, “Frankly, failing to deal with those issues creates as much uncertainty as dealing with them.

“In order to deal with these issues, we’re going to take a thoughtful, considered, intelligent approach to moving forward and we are going to do it with a great deal of consultation and a great deal of dialogue and they’re not going to be surprised by anything,” she said.

“But to suggest that we never change anything ever, ever, ever going forward I don’t think is particularly responsible, given the pressures that are being faced by the industry as a result of the worldwide conversation around climate change.”

Notley said she spoke “at some length” on the phone to Canadian Natural Resources chairman Murray Edwards, a prominent oilpatch financier. The CEOs of Encana Corp. (TSX:ECA) and Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) said they also had calls with Notley after the May 5 election.

Earlier Wednesday, new Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said she’s in “listening and learning mode” as the government prepares to review oil and gas royalties.

The royalty review is a priority, she said on her way into the cabinet meeting.

“As the premier’s promised, it’s going to be an open and transparent process,” she said, adding the industry will have “a lot of input.”

The hope is to assemble the royalty panel within six months, but there are logistics to consider heading into summer, she said.

Some in the oilpatch were surprised by Notley’s pick for the energy portfolio, expecting someone more high-profile or with oil and gas experience.

McCuaig-Boyd’s career background is mostly in education, as a teacher and administrator. More recently she’s been consulting with small- and medium-sized businesses.

She represents a riding in northwestern Alberta where there’s a great deal of oil and gas activity and she’s lived in the area for about 35 years.

McCuaig-Boyd said she wants the energy sector to know she’s coming into her new job with no pre-conceived notions.

“I’m pretty open-minded. I’m very collaborative. That’s I think one of the reasons I was picked, is I am a collaborative type of person and pragmatic.”

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