Linda Cook set to take helm in Calgary

(This marks the first Oilpatch Roundup column by award- winning Alberta writer Mark Lowey, who brings his unique perspective on energy issues to the pages of Business Edge.)

Linda Cook will have a lot more on her mind than the rose garden she’s planning at her new home in Calgary.

Cook, 45, moved here with her family from London to take over as chief executive of Shell Canada Ltd. She’s the first woman to run a major oil and gas company in Canada, and the youngest CEO ever to lead Shell Canada.

Look for Cook to do some judicious pruning of any faltering assets at Shell Canada, whose profits last year shrank by 44 per cent, while Imperial Oil Ltd.’s dropped only two per cent and Petro-Canada’s grew 15 per cent.

Royal Dutch/Shell’s stated goal is to increase the representation of women in its senior executive positions to 20 per cent by 2008 – up from 8.3 per cent at the end of 2002.

But it’s clear from Cook’s impressive resume with Shell that her drive and business smarts – not her gender – made her a fast bloomer.

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ATCO Gas is putting the pedal to the metal on fuel cells.

The company with the largest fleet in Alberta powered by natural gas (378 vehicles) is investing $1.2 million in fuel cell research, part of a $3.25-million project at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).

The aim is to speed up development of commercial applications for Canada’s first high-voltage, fully operational fuel cell.

NAIT will install a 200-kilowatt phosphoric acid fuel cell, expected to lower the school’s annual energy bill by about $51,000 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 65 per cent. A separate five-kilowatt solid oxide fuel cell will be used in research and teaching.

Other project partners include Western Economic Diversification, the Alberta Energy Research Institute and Climate Change Central.

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The National Energy Board forecasts two different but plausible energy futures for Canada.

In a new report that looks at energy supply and demand in Canada to 2025, the NEB says in the “Supply Push” scenario, there is a continued push to develop known conventional energy sources including coal-fired power. New technology advances gradually, and Canadians take limited action on environmental issues.

In the “Techno-Vert” scenario, technology advances rapidly and Canadians take broad action on the environment. Renewable energy such as wind, biomass and small hydro surge to make up almost 10 per cent of the power generation mix.

In either scenario, the NEB concludes, fossil fuels will continue to meet most of Canada’s energy needs until at least 2025, with Alberta’s oilsands becoming the country’s major oil supply.

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Premier Ralph Klein must be humming merrily about the preliminary information package filed by natural gas producers backing the $4-billion Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

Klein had been angrily buzzing about Arctic gas making a beeline through Alberta to the U.S., with the province harvesting none of the benefits of the petrochemical-related components of the gas.

Now the Mackenzie Delta Producers Group, led by Imperial Oil Ltd., has told regulators it favours constructing two separate pipelines. The longer line would carry the gas, while a shorter one would carry some of the stripped-off natural gas liquids or NGLs from the Inuvik region’s gas fields to Norman Wells, N.W.T. From there, the NGLs would be piped to Alberta through an existing line operated by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.

That would make the NGLs available as feedstock for Alberta’s petrochemical industry, rather than for plants south of the border. Just what Ralph had in mind.

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Johnny Horton’s song North to Alaska is a hit these days over at Talisman Energy Inc.

Fortuna Exploration LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Talisman Energy Inc., has struck a deal with French oil giant TotalFinaElf, through Total E&P USA, Inc., to explore 930 square kilometres of the National Petroleum Reserve Area in Alaska’s North Slope. Fortuna will participate in drilling an exploration well to earn a 30-per-cent interest in the prospect.

The cool climate in Alaska – where every state resident gets an annual oil royalty cheque – will be a welcome change from the hot human rights issues Talisman confronted in Sudan before selling its interests there.

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Lennox Lewis might be getting old, but there are some real heavyweights slugging it out over a controversial Alberta Energy and Utilities Board plan.

In one corner are feisty natural gas producers including Paramount Energy Trust, EnCana Corp., Canadian Natural Gas Resources Ltd., Husky Oil Operations Ltd. and Talisman Energy Inc. In the other corner, there are big oilsands lease holders such as Petro-Canada, ConcoPhillips Canada Resources, Nexen Canada Ltd., and Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd.

Backed into the tightest corner of all is the EUB, whose ultimate decision will make neither side happy.

Several gas producers lined up at an EUB public meeting in Calgary last week, to take shots at the regulatory board’s move to shut down indefinitely about 900 billion cubic feet, or two per cent, of Alberta’s annual natural gas production on Aug. 1.

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The EUB wants to shut in more than 900 wells in the Athabasca oilsands area south of Fort McMurray because continued extraction of the gas reduces the reservoir pressures, making it harder to recover 100 billion barrels of the tar-like bitumen.

Paramount Energy, livid that the shut-in would cut its gas production by up to half, is demanding the Alberta government step in to referee.

Energy Edge Prediction: the EUB will go the distance. Watch for a compromise that will add flexibility to the Aug. 1 shut-in deadline, allow for continued gas production where there’s little risk of bitumen loss, and rope in Alberta Energy to compensate affected gas producers.