About a year ago, one of Canada’s most influential money managers made a prediction that few people in the oil sands took very seriously. Leo de Bever warned the price of oil would drop from a booming $100 per barrel to a disastrous $70 or less. “People thought I was nuts,” de Bever told The Tyee in a phone interview from Edmonton. But oil this past month dropped below $60, and is expected to fall further into 2015. It could end up costing Canada over $13 billion in lost revenues, according to a recent CIBC report.
The Netherlands-born de Bever is highly respected in Canadian financial circles. He’s soon retiring as CEO of AIMco, an Alberta pension fund that oversees assets worth $75 billion. Though oil prices are cyclical and may recover by the end of 2015, de Bever thinks they’re only one of many threats facing the oil sands. In 20 to 30 years, he argues, the market challenge to gasoline and diesel posed by electric cars, clean energy, alternative fuels and climate action could go from nascent to formidable.
Which is why de Bever thinks today’s oil price slump may foreshadow a not so distant future where Alberta is the source for a product nobody wants. It’s a given for de Bever that oil sands firms need to make their operations as green as possible. But the longer-term solution he floated during a Tyee Q&A may surprise you. Read on to learn why he thinks the oil sands could shift from a source of road fuels to chemicals, and how come the most creative ideas often start out sounding crazy.