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An oil pump jack pumps oil in a field near Calgary, Alberta, July 21, 2014.


The oil and gas industry hasn't wasted any time lobbying on Alberta's review of energy royalties.

Dave Mowat, the chief executive officer of provincially owned ATB Financial who was appointed in June to chair the Alberta government's royalty review panel, says he's already had hundreds of conversations, informal and formal, about the review.

Amid the oil price rout, higher corporate taxes in Alberta and the province's expanding levy on carbon emissions, the royalty review remains the oil and gas sector's biggest regulatory issue due to its potential costs, according to lobbyists and industry sources who spoke anonymously because it's early days for the review.

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They said Mr. Mowat has been meeting with CEOs and industry officials who have provided suggestions ranging from who to appoint as his panel members to their call for speedy review. Mr. Mowat acknowledges as much.

"In the hundreds of people I've talked to, a lot of them from industry, I've got an incredibly willing reception from them to be involved," Mr. Mowat said in an interview.

"They're very anxious for this to be done quickly, and almost in the same sentence, they also are cautious that it not be a cursory examination."

What's the issue?

Following the Alberta NDP government's pledge to review oil and gas royalties to ensure Albertans get their "fair share," Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd appointed Mr. Mowat to chair a royalty review advisory panel.

Energy companies in Alberta, particularly through industry group the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, will be urging the panel to look at the cumulative effects on the industry as companies continue to lay off workers and plan their budgets and capital spending for the next fiscal year.

CAPP has publicly called for an "appropriate royalty structure" that attracts investment, creates jobs and generates government revenue.

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Dana Benner, head of equity research at AltaCorp Capital in Calgary, said he expects the industry to present arguments about the sector's impacts on the Canadian economy.

"These effects are far reaching. It's not just about whether any individual company is more or less profitable, it's about whether a sector is profitable and able to keep people employed," Mr. Benner said.

Who's lobbying whom?

Mr. Mowat said he's met with CEOs and experts from research institutes and universities, although he declined to say who. Industry sources have been suggesting possible members to Mr. Mowat to fill out the panel, which he hopes to do with two or three members, in addition to himself, by about mid-August.

Several companies and organizations are registered to lobby in Alberta on oil and gas royalties or the royalty review specifically, including Imperial Oil Ltd., Encana Corp., Suncor Energy Inc., Husky Energy, MEG Energy Corp., CAPP and the Alberta Federation of Labour. Murray Smith and Associates in Calgary is also registered to lobby on the issue for Talisman Energy Inc.

Advocacy for and against an energy royalty hike could also emerge as Mr. Mowat said the review will include a process for comments and feedback from the public, in different formats.

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"Whether it's a Walrus talk or TED talk or a Reddit community, whatever it might be, [that would be] in addition to meeting people, obviously, directly," Mr. Mowat said. "There's lots of ways to engage a whole variety of people."

The biggest challenge?

In early August, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. pointed the finger at the Alberta government for a quarterly loss.

The industry in Alberta, already dealing with the slump in oil prices, is feeling the effects of the NDP government's increase in corporate taxes and readying for its plan to double its carbon levy over two years, as well as a review of the province's climate-change strategy.

Mr. Mowat acknowledged that these "are all costs" to the industry. He wants to look at optimizing success and investment in the industry, government revenues, and benefits to Albertans, what he calls "kind of a three-legged stool."

The current system already accounts for oil price crashes. One approach could be incentives for extraction companies that face higher costs, a possibility that Ms. McCuaig-Boyd has acknowledged.

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"Canada has some very challenging geological formations. For example, if gas is buried very, very deep, it's quite a bit different to get at than gas that's [within] a few hundred metres of the surface. I think there's a practice of trying to make the system compensate for things like that, to make it attractive to go after very difficult resources," Mr. Mowat said. "The ones that are a little more vanilla would have a regular program attached to them."

What's next?

Mr. Mowat said he's focused on finding panel members and establishing a mandate and framework for the review. The panel is tasked with concluding its work at the end of the year with preliminary findings.

"The plan is to keep a relatively small panel and then below that have places where we can really consult with people who are very knowledgeable on those sectors below it," Mr. Mowat said.

While the government will make the final decision, Mr. Mowat will be updating Ms. McCuaig-Boyd as the review proceeds. "We'll be trying to bring all the parties along," Mr. Mowat said.

Simon Doyle covers lobbying and the intersection of business and politics in Ottawa. He writes for Politics Insider, which is available only to subscribers of Globe Unlimited.

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