Representatives of Canada’s oil and gas industry like to talk about jobs and all the people they employ. In particular, Tim McMillan, who represents all the oil and gas industry as CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, seems to talk about jobs at every opportunity. Jobs his industry has created. Jobs supposedly at risk from government policy. And yet oil companies are working hard to eliminate work done by actual people.

There’s even a term for it, popularized by Cenovus Energy executive-VP Kiron McFadyen : “de-man” the sector to achieve “zero manning.” In other words, Cenovus and other companies want to get rid of as many employees as possible in order to maximize profits.

It’s natural that oil executives and industry associations try to curry favour with politicians and the public—asking for tax cuts, complaining about carbon regulations, and citing competitiveness issues vis à vis the U.S.—by talking about the jobs in their sector. They understand that creating jobs has more resonance than boosting corporate profits.

But why should any government decision maker or stakeholder or citizen—let alone any worker in the oil patch—give corporate executives any credibility when they discuss the importance of their industry as a creator or maintainer of employment? It is clear that the view of industry leaders is that employees and their salaries are a cost to be minimized.

References to ghost workplaces are not just empty talk. There are ample examples which indicate that oil sands operations with few or no employees is the goal of much of the sector. Autonomous trucks—trucks that can operate without any driver—are already rolling out across the industry. Imperial Oil recently started using the largest autonomous truck in the world at their Kearl oil sands mine. Suncor is building 150 autonomous haulers to eliminate 400 jobs.

Other types of operations are also eliminating jobs. Sometime this year, it is expected that directional drilling used in in situ operations will be successfully “de-manned.” For hydraulic fracturing or fracking, crews that used to require 30 workers can now be done with two and some remote controls.

Strong profits will also not spare oil and gas employees. The search for the workerless operation is happening at all these companies despite a rising price of oil and soaring revenue. Cenovus completed a 15 per cent cut to its workforce earlier this year, after earning net revenues of $620 million in the last three months of 2017 alone.

This indifference to local workers and communities is not new. In 2013 and 2014, Canadian media outlets reported extensively on the practice amongst oil companies such as Husky Energy and Imperial Oil of hiring cheaper foreign workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and then laying off domestic employees. After Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government made changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2014 to restrict its abuse, companies used other programs to keep bringing in foreign workers that they could pay much less.

Why are oil executives talking about jobs being under attack from government when they're also eliminating employees to maximize profits? writes @CCDale @envirodefence #opinion

The end result is that despite continuously expanding oil production in Canada and corporate profits rising with the price of oil, many of the 100,000 jobs lost in the oil and gas over the last three to four years are not coming back. Despite the fact that some jobs have been recovered over the past months, little to no job growth is expected over the next few years in the oil sands even if the sector continues to expand.

Meanwhile, Canadian jobs in renewable energy had already surpassed jobs in the oil sands back in 2014. That’s before the downturn in the oil sector, and before the continued growth in development and jobs in clean energy.

So the question is: Given oil executives’ concerted efforts to get rid of every salary-earning employee in their companies, why does anyone listen when they talk about jobs?

Dale Marshall is the National Program Manager at Environmental Defence.

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An excellent, factual summary. Thank you.

When we talk about transitioning to sustainable energy the fans of fossil fuels always say "what about all the jobs provided by the oil and gas industry?" We need to tell them that those jobs won't last.
The industry could employ tens of thousands to clean up their orphaned and abandoned sites but I don't hear them talking about that.
Oil and gas publicists have long talked about what good corporate citizens they are. They used to provide some well paying jobs but that era appears to be over. Just like the Holocene, which is being replaced by the anthropocene. They back away from their good works, such as providing jobs, as soon as they are no longer profitable.
Buying a few arenas and a few university lecture halls can't make up for what they've done to our planet.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media is bought and paid for by corporations, just as most politician,so chances these facts will make it out to the masses is pretty much nil.

Minice, you've just issued a dare! As is the case every time activists come together and compare notes, the conclusion is always that we MUST spread information like this by talking to people - anyone, anywhere!
The only answer I can come up with to the question of why we continue to listen to oil executives' lies is perhaps: 1. to know the enemy, and 2. just in case they might say something new and/or believable...!

Which is why we find Christmas gift subscriptions to the National Observer such a good idea. Birthdays are opportunities too. I think last years Christmas package was 69.00. Perhaps we could suggest to the paper that they make up a bundle offer....for those of us wanting to donate 5 or more....we suggest to the recipients that they also comment in this section. Because for damn sure, if you can't say what you think on aren't doing it face to face. Onward.

Thank you so much from all of us, Mary, for encouraging readers to subscribe. Every subscription really helps our journalism; we offer discounts for seniors and also can arrange discounted subscriptions for people on fixed incomes. Please subscribe at

Thank you!

The basic problem is that oil companies (and financial institutions) have so much money for lobbying and advertising and bribery precisely because their product makes so much money in profit compared to the amount used to employ people. Industries where much of the revenue goes to employment, ones which genuinely create a whole lot of jobs, don't have as much spare cash to spend on telling us how many jobs they create.

Automation in general is exposing a big fault line in how the economy is organized. I mean, fundamentally, people having to work less in order to get the same result is a Good Thing. If the companies in question were owned by the workers, those workers could cut everyone's hours and leave their paychecks intact; the whole society would get more leisure. Because instead everything's owned by these billionaire greedheads, they just cut the number of jobs and leave everyone scrambling over each other to make a living like crabs in a bucket; what should be the benefit of increased leisure turns into a nightmare of insecurity.

Indeed - why in particular do politicians parrot these meretricious, self serving and demonstrably false claims? Is everyone "captured" by the oil lobbyists?

I seriously suspect we are 'captured' by each other. When we listen more....resist the urge to correct other people and instead find ways to have rejoinders like, 'that's interesting, but what about all those abandoned wells'. If the person we're speaking with denies their existence....we can be ready with another rejoinder that doesn't call them a moron...but perhaps suggests an article or website where the situation is laid out.

We're captured by our culture. The rules about not talking in polite society about anything religion or politics. And the meanness that results from years of forced silence. And the bullies of course....most of whom aren't that smart or informed, but who love to enforce the culture...simply because it is the culture.

Breaking that silence takes courage......and a willingness to refuse the silence, even when you're attacked for speaking. It's easy to blame the oil industry...lots of bullies work there. But its harder to admit free speech is often a club..........and truth seeking discussion rare.