I was recently reviewing labour data from Statistics Canada based on economic sector, and I was curious to see how the numbers have changed for Alberta’s oil and gas sector since July 2014, which is when Alberta saw the most workers in this sector.
Before we begin, there’s a bit of a caveat. Statistics Canada lumps oil and gas in with forestry, fishing, mining, and quarrying. That being said, oil and gas workers account for 96% of all workers in this combined sector. So any long-term trends will definitely be seen among oil and gas workers.
Anyhow, in July 2014, Statistics Canada reported that there were 180,300 people working in this sector. Last month, January 2023, there were only 131,100 workers reported in that sector. That’s a loss of 49,200 workers over the last 8.5 years.
Here’s what it looked like every month since July 2014.
As you can see, Alberta has definitely seen a drop in oil and gas workers over the last 8.5 years.
This view also shows a few other things that I found interesting.
For example, often the rhetoric around these job losses is that the NDP were to blame. But let’s look at that a bit more closely.
This orange square covers the period when the NDP were in power, between May 2015 and April 2019.
The first thing that sticks out to me is that oil and gas jobs were already on the decline under the PC government, months before the NDP took office.
In July 2014, as I have already pointed out, there were 180,300 people working in this sector. By the next April, the last month they were in power, that number had dropped to 156,600. That’s a total loss of nearly 24,000 workers over the 10 months between peak employment and when the NDP won the 2015 provincial election.
In other words, nearly half of the jobs lost since the summer of 2014 disappeared under the PC government in less than a year.
The NDP don’t come away from this unscathed though.
It took until July 2016—two full years of decline—before oil and gas jobs bottomed out. By the end of that month, the number of workers still employed in the sector was reduced to 129,400, an additional 27,200 workers on top of those put out of work under the PCs.
That means that in the first two years after peak employment, the sector lost 50,900 workers. Remember, that took place under both the PCs and the NDP.
Over the next two years or so, oil and gas jobs began to bounce back, and by November 2018, 152,000 were working in the sector in Alberta. So, while Alberta lost 27,200 oil and gas jobs under the first year or so under the NDP, we gained 22,600 over the next two. That leaves us with a net loss of just 4,600 workers.
However, over the next 5 months, leading up to the 2019 election, oil and gas jobs in Alberta declined again, finishing at 146,700.
That’s certainly better than the 129,400 workers the sector bottomed out at in July 2016, but it’s still a far cry of the more than 180,000 we saw in July 2014.
In total—between May 2015 and April 2019—Alberta saw a net loss of 9,900 oil and gas workers under the NDP administration. That’s less than half the loss—after 4 years—than the PCs saw in just 10 months.
When we look back at the right side of the chart—which represents the UCP administration—it quickly becomes apparent that oil and gas jobs haven’t done well under the current government.
That decline that began at the end of the NDP’s term continued into the UCP’s first year. We often here that the COVID-19 pandemic was the cause of job losses in the oil and gas sector, when the economy had to shut down for a few months.
Now, that’s partially true. Oil and gas jobs did bottom out in August 2020 at 119,600, not even 6 months into the pandemic. But by the time the UCP government had introduced public health protections, which ended up leading to job losses, over 10,000 oil and gas workers had already lost their jobs.
In April 2019, the month the UCP won the provincial election, there were 146,700 oil and gas workers who still had a job in Alberta. In February 2020, however, the last month before the public health protections came into effect, only 133,100 workers were still employed in the sector.
That’s a drop of 13,600 workers. Before the pandemic.
Over the next year or so, Alberta started to see some recovery, with oil and gas jobs peaking at 150,300 in July 2021. That’s an increase of nearly 31,000 oil and gas workers, which is pretty impressive.
Even with that huge jump, jobs still fell short of the peak of 152,000 seen during the NDP administration. Over the next 10 months, jobs remained pretty stagnant, and then, just as we saw with the previous two governments, oil and gas jobs have been declining during the final months of the UCP’s administration.
In May 2022, Alberta had 148,300 people working in oil and gas. As of last month, that number has dropped to 131,100. Although, we still have four more months until the next election, Alberta has lost 15,600 oil and gas workers while the UCP have been in power.
So to recap.
Related to this, I also often hear people blaming Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, which has been in power for over 7 years, for the loss in jobs. While it’s true that Alberta’s oil and gas workers have lost their jobs while he’s been in power, there’s some missing context in this claim.
The 2015 federal election occurred in October 2015. Between July 2014 and October 2015, 30,300 oil and gas workers lost their jobs in Alberta, dropping from 180,300 to 150,000 during that period. Since then, another 18,900 have lost their jobs, after the sector fell to 131,100 workers last month.
So, 30,300 fewer workers under Stephen Harper and 18,900 fewer under Trudeau.
Now, if you’re new to this website, you might be thinking, well things are pretty tough in the oil and gas sector in Alberta. It makes sense that there’d be fewer workers.
Take a look at this charts, which show natural gas production in Alberta over the last decade.
In December 2012, corporations extracted 8.41 billion cubic metres of natural gas in Alberta. A decade later, in December 2022, that number had increased to 9.41 billion m3. Corporations are extracting a billion cubic metres more of Alberta’s natural gas now than they were 10 years ago.
Now, check out the chart for oil extraction.
We’ve gone from extracting 12.85 million m3 of both crude oil and bitumen in December 2012 to 18.77 million m3 in December 2022.
In other words, companies are extracting 11.9% more natural gas and 46.1% more oil but doing it with 50,000 fewer workers.
Not only that, but the 10 largest oil and gas companies in Alberta made a combined profit of $46.35 billion, as of December 2022.
So, more production and more profit, but fewer workers. Something seems off here.