In a way, this is where Greg Stringham came in.
Mr. Stringham, energy's inside man, is retiring from his executive post at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers after two decades, four royalty reviews, numerous pipeline battles and three industry downturns. Now, oil prices are in the tank.
"When I started this 20 years ago the price of oil was $25 [U.S.] a barrel. I thought I would leave with it slightly higher but it might actually get back to that point," Mr. Stringham says. "The more things change, the more they stay the same – although the production was 400,000 from the oil sands when I started here and now we're at almost 2.4 million barrels a day, so that has changed."
The other big change is how the sector has become more national and international in scope and economic influence. Lately, energy's woes have become Canada's woes.
The oil patch has been battered by the crude-price shock for more than a year, forcing massive cuts in corporate spending and tens of thousands of layoffs. But that's not why the 55-year-old is stepping down as the lobby group's vice-president. He had given himself a time limit, pledging to stay on until some major policy items such as Alberta's newest royalty review, its climate-change framework, the Paris climate accord and applications for new pipeline projects were in motion. He has no plans yet for his next assignment.
In an industry with no shortage of outsized personalities, Mr. Stringham has a reputation as a skillful consensus builder with a keen ability to connect the dots between the corporate, political and diplomatic worlds.
Anyone who's seen him at the table at CAPP will tell you of his prowess at getting strong-willed CEOs with diverging interests to agree on possible solutions to problems facing the energy sector as a whole.
"My philosophy is to come to the table with a right answer, and then work with the people around the table to build on that, to get to a point that will be good for the industry," he says.
A big test of that came just a couple months ago. Some CAPP member CEOs were incensed when their colleagues at Suncor, Cenovus, Shell and Canadian Natural Resources stood with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to announce the province's climate-change framework, having held talks outside the fold. A deep rift looked inevitable, but the organization has moved past it, he says.
"What we did as an association as that happened is brought everybody together and simply said to those who were there in the know: 'Explain where you're at and give us more detail and understanding.' Despite lack of understanding, people were willing to give it that time," Mr. Stringham says.
"And we now have six working groups working with the government, everybody in the tent, including the four and those who weren't there – working to try to get a better understanding of what that meant."
Outside CAPP, he's known for an ability to gain access to important ears in provincial, federal and foreign governments. Even environmentalists who have come up against Big Oil on some of the most pitched development battles voice respect for his open-minded and gentlemanly style.
Oil had tumbled to $10 a barrel when Mr. Stringham, a chemical engineer by trade, began his career at Syncrude Canada Ltd. in 1986. After three years at the oil sands operation, he took a job in the Alberta energy department, working on policy. Since 1995, he's been at CAPP, where he's worked under four presidents, most recently showing the ropes to Tim McMillan, a former Saskatchewan cabinet minister.
Now, the organization faces its next big issue with the Notley government due to deliver its report on royalties soon. After dealing with several such reviews over the years, he's complimentary of how this one's been handled.
"They were open, they brought in external consultants who knew what they were doing. They talked to industry on a regular basis and they talked to other parties that were involved on a regular basis," he says. "So, the process I have strong confidence in, and if I've seen anything from the other royalty reviews I've been through, an open, transparent process leads to a very successful result."
Whether it is or not, it will undoubtedly be tougher for the industry to respond without its go-to guy to help lay the groundwork with all the right people.