Salkeld provided effective leadership as Canadian industry begins grappling with technology-driven changes to its business model
Mark Salkeld is preparing to leave his job in mid-March as head of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada. Who will the PSAC board choose as his successor? Will it be a conservative with instructions to push back hard against the (perceived) regulation-happy Notley and Trudeau governments or a progressive more in tune with the Energy Transition worldview increasingly embraced by the global super majors (e.g. Shell, ExxonMobil) and Canada’s big oil sands producers?
A version of this conflict played out in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in 2014.
Dave Collyer, a long-time Shell Canada executive, was moving on after six years at the helm. He supports carbon pricing, co-chaired the Oil Sands Advisory Group that helped the Alberta NDP government draft controversial emissions-reduction rules, and is considered a leading member of the progressive group of Calgary executives.
Collyer was replaced by Tim McMillan, a former Saskatchewan oilfield services company owner and energy minister in Premier Brad Wall conservative government. Under McMillan, CAPP has had a testy relationship with the Notley NDP, criticizing it for piling on cumbersome regulations that have increased the cost of doing business in Alberta.
While CAPP pays lip service to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and better environmental performance by the oil and gas sector, my sources tell me the association has been a tepid participant in policy consultations with the Alberta government.
I’ve interviewed Salkeld a number of times and come to like and respect him. He may have an MBA, but his roots are in the field as a heavy duty mechanic and he never shied away from getting his hands dirty.
In the war over energy infrastructure in Canada, CAPP is the air force, conducting studies and high level communications campaigns, while PSAC under Salkeld fought in the trenches, touring rural communities to address local concerns about contentious issues like hydraulic fracturing.
PSAC also slowly came to grips with new energy service providers, recently allowing solar and geothermal power installers to join the organization.
“Our members are already in that space, we’ve got members adapting solar and lithium-ion batteries and all sorts of alternatives for renewables, converting engines to natural gas, biofuels, converting waste oils – that whole kind of clean tech space,” he said in an interview early this year.
While embracing non-traditional energy suppliers may seem like a progressive move, Salkeld’s answer is insightful: he made it clear PSAC was responding to change, not leading it.
The organization is still essentially conservative, as illustrated by its decision in 2016 to champion the goofy idea, contained in a budget submission to the federal government, to reduce or stop equalization payments to provinces like Quebec that oppose new oil pipelines. Salkeld told me his board of directors enthusiastically endorsed the strategy and he had received plenty of supportive calls from Alberta industry types.
After taking public flak, PSAC thankfully stopped talking about transfer payments for pipelines, a regressive proposal if there ever was one.
Salkeld’s new job will be VP of operations and business development for Calgary-based CLEANTEK Industries, which develops and markets solar-hybrid lighting and power for off-grid applications, as well as wastewater dehydration technologies, according to the company’s website.
We wish him luck and success in his new position.
“Mark has delivered tremendous value to our Members, including spearheading a review of membership types which now extends to companies in the alternative energy space. He supported the development of an effective government relations program ensuring PSAC’s voice was at the table on major policy issues across all levels of government,” chairman Scott Van Vliet said in a press release.
If PSAC wants to expand that effective presence, its time to build on Salkeld’s impressive legacy by avoiding CAPP’s mistake and hiring a new CEO more in tune with the changing times.
By changing times I don’t mean a Liberal or NDP-leaning executive, despite those parties being in power in most of the provinces where the Alberta industry needs support for its ambitious plans to improve market access in the next decade.
What I do mean is someone who recognizes that the very structure of the global energy system is rapidly evolving. The time has come for Alberta industry leaders to both acknowledge the reality of the global Energy Transition and to fully embrace the opportunities that come with transformative change.
Van Vliet hints that PSAC may be ready to do just that when he says in the release, “We will need another strong leader that will be able to steer the Association on the path we now find ourselves and the changing landscape in which we operate.”
Acknowledgement of that “changing landscape” is encouraging.
Let’s hope that the search committee led by past association chair Doug McNeill – valve manufacturer Stream Flo’s chief strategic officer who has international experience and, hopefully, a more progressive view of the industry’s future – finds a younger, forward looking candidate.
PSAC’s hire will say a lot about which direction the Canadian oil and gas industry has chosen for the next five or 10 years.