Canada pays the price of pegging domestic oil to world prices
Edmundton, Alberta — Canada, once banking on increasing world oil prices to fatten its lean treasury, is anxiously watching the confused state of the world oil market. A significant drop or even a leveling off of world oil prices means a lot less income than Ottawa bargained on. Indeed this holds true for Alberta, the nation's oil-producing province, as well as for Canada's oil industry.
Alberta and Ottawa put a merciful end to the constant bickering over a new domestic energy pricing agreement 16 months ago. The accord pegged most of Alberta's oil production at 75 percent of world prices. Oil discovered since 1981 commands full world price.
At the time it seemed like a reasonable deal. Over the five years of the agreement, industry would receive more money to explore for new oil, Ottawa planned to collect $54 billion in energy taxes, and the Alberta government hoped to realize $64 billion in energy revenues. These projections were based on the world oil price steadily climbing to close to $80 a barrel by 1986.
In the face of falling oil prices, industry and government are scrambling to adjust.
With industry not likely to see the $94 billion projected for it in the energy pricing agreement, it could mean tighter exploration budgets.
But the head of one oil exploration company in Calgary, the hub of Canada's oil industry, thinks otherwise. Nick Taylor says now that oil prices ''are starting to yoyo on the world market . . . Canada is starting to look like a good place to invest money. So what you are going to see is an influx of people trying to get into the oil business because they know it is stable in Canada.''
In light of the unstable OPEC situation, there is some talk that Alberta and Ottawa might be forced to reopen their domestic energy pricing agreement. Among other things, if the two eliminated the 75-percent-of-world-price ceiling on most of the country's production, and allowed the full world price, it would improve the cash flow of many oil companies. It would also mean more tax income for Canada which is struggling with a huge deficit. But for the time being at least, the federal government has given no indication it wants to negotiate the agreement with Alberta. And as far as Albertan Premier Peter Lougheed is concerned, such a prospect is ''hypothetical.''
Some see lower prices providing a spark to help pull national economies out of recessions but to Mr. Lougheed this would be short-lived.