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Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. in 2015.Alex Panetta/The Canadian Press

Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. has laid off line workers and managers in its natural gas division as the industry continues to shed jobs in the face of low demand and declining revenues as a result of the pandemic.

TC Energy would not provide the number of employees affected, but said in an e-mail its Canadian gas operations and projects team is being restructured. The move is the latest in a series of job and capital expenditure cuts in the energy sector as companies try to protect their bottom lines.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says more than 28,000 production jobs have been lost across the country in 2020. In the oil field service sector, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors estimates its members have slashed their work forces by between 20 per cent and 50 per cent this year.

Some of the companies that have reduced their work forces this year include Ovintiv Inc. – formerly Canadian energy giant Encana – which laid off workers across its North American operations over the summer. Total Energy Services Inc. and STEP Energy Services Ltd. cut jobs in the spring.

Energy companies were already facing pressures before the pandemic, largely because of depressed oil prices. Husky Energy Inc., for example, laid off hundreds of employees late last year, followed a few weeks later by Perpetual Energy Inc., which slashed its work force by 25 per cent.

This week’s job cuts at TC Energy are restricted to the company’s natural gas operations. That includes a 93,300-kilometre network of natural gas pipeline, which supplies more than 25 per cent of natural gas consumed daily across North America to heat homes, fuel industries and generate power.

In Canada, the company is pursuing a pipeline expansion in northwest Alberta that will run southeast toward Rocky Mountain House. The expansion would add around 350 kilometres of new pipeline to its existing natural gas system. Work planned for the project this year has been delayed as the company awaits federal government approvals.

TC Energy said in September it remained committed to the project and would refine the construction schedule and advance construction planning in anticipation of an approval.

The overhaul at TC Energy comes days after the company’s long-time president and chief executive officer Russ Girling announced his retirement, surprising the market.

Mr. Girling led TC Energy through a period of unprecedented growth, including the development of its liquids-pipeline business, expansion of its power-generation portfolio and its US$13-billion acquisition of Columbia Pipeline Group in 2016.

For a decade he also led the charge to get the Keystone pipeline expansion built, despite reams of legal challenges and regulatory hurdles along the way.

The pipeline received a boost in March when the Alberta government agreed to contribute US$1.1-billion to gain an ownership stake that it plans to sell back to the company after commercial operations begin. It will also guarantee US$4.2-billion of debt related to the 1,947-kilometre pipeline.

Kavi Bal, spokesperson for Alberta’s Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said Tuesday the changes made by TC Energy are not related to the Keystone XL project. While the province now has a direct financial interest, it does not decide the day-to-day operations or management of TC Energy, he said.

Also on Tuesday, Natural Law Energy – comprising the Maskwacis Nations, Saddle Lake Cree Nation and Nekaneet First Nation – signed a memorandum of understanding with TC Energy to pursue an equity interest in Keystone XL “and other potential related midstream and power projects.”

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