Piapot native joins board of directors at Methanex
An oilpatch veteran with deep ties to southeast Albert and southwest Saskatchewan has joined the board of directors of Methanex.
Jim Bertram, who was raised in Piapot, Sask., played hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers as a teen, and helped build up major natural gas producer Keyera as its CEO and now chairman, was named to the board of the methanol producer Sept. 28.
Many Hatters might see it as a signal that the long-proposed expansion of the local plant here will have a big booster working inside the boardroom.
“Maybe,” Bertram told the Medicine Hat News this week, adding that while he’s officially non-committal on an ongoing decision process on Methanex expansion here or in Louisiana, he’s an outspoken booster of greater petrochemical production in Alberta in general.
“What I can tell you is that I understand the energy dynamics in Alberta as well as anybody,” said Bertram. “I’ve lived it for 35 years, and I’m a real believer that projects like expanding in Medicine Hat, or new ethanol or petrochemcial projects absolutely make a lot of sense in Alberta.”
That said, Bertram stressed, major capital decisions, such as the C$1.3billion project here, are extremely complex, require a solid business case and a lot of analysis.
Methanex announced early plans to twin the Medicine Hat facility in 2013, but in the meantime moved South American plants to the U.S. Gulf Coast region.
That’s created some anxiety in the Hat where economic concerns have dominated the past two municipal elections.
This summer, Methanex announced it had purchased land and would advance a third plant in Geismar, La., and dedicated US$40 million for advanced engineering work there.
CEO John Floran has also said Medicine Hat is still a strong candidate for expansion, and that if partners could be drawn into the Geismar 3 project, local project could move higher in the queue.
The key hurdle in the Hat is securing rail transportation to ship the production to West Coast ports, according to the company, along with more recent U.S. tax advantages as well as Canadian carbon pricing.
Topping a list of strengths are vast supplies of low-cost natural gas, which is transformed into methanol and used as industrial antifreeze and solvent.
Bertram said Alberta prices for gas should make it a top competitor for chemical industry spending.
“There’s an awful lot of gas that needs to come out of the Western Canadian Basin … and it’s as cheap as anywhere in the world,” he said.
“I’m not there to tell them what to do, but when I look into the crystal ball, Alberta is a great place to expand.”
That could also include Keyera, Bertram said. That mid-stream company has long held land in the Fort Saskatchewan region while it evaluates potential opportunities.
Bertram, 62, played two full seasons with the Tigers between 1974 and 1976. He was president and CEO of Keyera for 16 years until 2014, when he became chairman of that company’s board.
Prior to the formation of Keyera, who held senior roles with Gulf Canada and Amerda Hess.
He also serves on the board of Halifaxbased Emera, the power company that was created when Nova Scotia Power was privatized in 1998.
Methanex president Floran stated in a release that he was pleased to welcome Bertram.
“He brings to Methanex a wealth of senior management experience in both the North American and global energy markets,” it read.
“His experience as a former CEO of a public company is a significant asset and will complement our current Board’s skills and experience.”