It is difficult to see Alberta brought to its knees first by an inexperienced government that created uncertainty in our oil and gas business and now by terrible fires that continue to devastate Fort McMurray. The good news is Albertans pretty much define resiliency! Our farming community constantly rebounds from its challenges. Slave Lake bounced back after a terrible fire, and now, Fort Mac will do the same. We will help each other and gratefully accept the help being offered from other provinces. Thousands and thousands of people have already rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Syncrude’s million-dollar fire fighting truck was seen patrolling the streets of Fort McMurray. Shell and Imperial Oil provided evacuees with free gas to help them escape the fires. Suncor was flying planeloads of people out of their airstrip. We KNOW how to help!

That being said, I do have grave concern for our future. I recently drove my daughter, Stephanie, her boyfriend, Kyle, and a trailer load of their belongings up highway 43 to Hay River in the Northwest Territories. I was struck by a number of things during our trip. The most surprising realization was in two short months it will have been forty years since I myself drove up highway 63 to Fort McMurray. I was a kid going to start my career at the Syncrude Mildred Lake site with Bechtel Canada. The oil sands had a different name back then, and the future  positive economic impact on our entire country was unknown.

I cannot help but think of both the similarities and the differences between the two trips. Headed to Fort McMurray as a young man, I recall a highway of optimism, capitalism, and seemingly endless growth. There were millions of trees and brilliant blue skies as far as the eye could see. Each time I stopped the car, I breathed in the fresh air of hope and prosperity. When I arrived at Mildred Lake, I met people from all over Canada and the world coming to experience the streets that were supposedly paved with gold. It was a great start in civil engineering, and I learned from some of the best. I wanted to go North. I was not forced.


There were some stark contrasts on my recent trip up highway 43. Graduating from mechanical engineering and wanting to gain project management experience, Kyle had no choice but to head to the far North. They would love to remain in Calgary, but there are too many skilled projects people out of work. Stephanie is

fortunate as, although she only graduated from the U of C a couple of years ago, she already has great experience in HR and secured a job immediately. So, they are off to start their future, but unlike my start, they have been forced to leave. Not quite the highway of dreams that mine was, but hopefully, their future will brighten. Thankfully, neither of them are locked into oil and gas as a sole means of support.

The most striking similarity though is the landscape itself. There are still brilliant blue skies and trees everywhere. The air is every bit as fresh and crisp as it was almost forty years ago. I do not dispute the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment nor that there is some global warming going on, but I see no evidence of any damage to the environment here. Alberta is and has always been an excellent steward of the environment. It angers me that our own governments seem to want to beat us up to advance their own agendas. In the overall scheme of the environment, the oil sands have miniscule impact when compared to so many other countries and industries around the world.

Satellite imagery of the burn scar left by
the wild fire on May 4, 2016

But, this edition is about hope not despair, future prosperity not bankruptcy, and success not failure. We are already seeing huge changes to the business landscape in Calgary and Alberta. Improved levels of cooperation and diverse companies working together to create success are happening. Dialogue and action at the highest levels are helping to map out a path forward. There is even a different perspective on how we mine our most valuable commodity.


At a recent meeting of like minds, an acquaintance of mine, Allan Chegus of Stream Systems, coined the phrase, “Thrive at Forty-Five.” He was describing how all companies must learn how to create success and profitability with oil priced at or close to $45.00 per barrel. This needs to become the mantra of our industry. The costs have been cut as far as they possibly can. Inefficient and unprofitable businesses are mostly gone. It is time to create trust-based and lasting partnerships and return to a time where people simply keep their commitments. There was no need for binders full of contract legalese to “bind” parties. There was the simple understanding that I would not let you

down. If you committed to me that you would get something done, you simply GOT IT DONE. People did not hide behind dubious wordings or loophole filled contracts. They did not pay lawyers ridiculous sums of cash to, “Get them out of a contract.” They just lived up to their commitments. Failure was NOT an option, and a man’s word was everything.


The good news is bright spots ARE popping up all over the place! These include;

● New technologies that allow us to clean and reuse water using minimal energy

● New power and lighting concepts that convert the sun’s energy to power systems that used to rely on fuel

● Innovative ways we have modified SAGD to use less energy to produce bitumen

We have been inefficient and wasteful for too long, and I truly hope we can all learn to be better.

We have been inefficient and wasteful for too long, and I truly hope we can all learn to be better. The inefficiency and waste occurred at all levels and in most all companies is a challenge we can only solve together by realizing we are in this TOGETHER! We have thousands of brilliant minds in this province, and we WILL find a way. However, all this work will be for naught if we cannot get our product out to international markets. Our largest customer, the USA, has ramped up its own production. They are even talking about becoming energy self-sufficient in the near future. We NEED to be able to get our bitumen and natural gas to market. The world STILL runs on oil and gas and will for some time.

The future CAN be bright, but we need to continue to be open to change. We need to live continuous improvement and not just talk about it. We must work together or the industry, and capital markets, will simply funnel its investment elsewhere. There is a rationalization of companies going on that will shrink the number of people fighting for the business. Those left will learn to be stronger, more agile, and resilient and will be the way of the future.

Hopefully with synergies, efficiencies, and true teamwork we can all prosper and indeed thrive at forty-five!


Stephen Mackisoc, C.E.T.
Operations Consultant







Originally published in the 

June 2016 Issue of Oilfield PULSE