Pi­apot na­tive joins board of direc­tors at Methanex

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Prairies - BY COLLIN GAL­LANT— South­ern Al­berta News­pa­pers

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.”

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