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Oil, gas Manitoba economic gushers

Southwestern sector now 2.5% of our GDP

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Oil-drilling rigs near Waskada, Man. The booming growth in the province's oil and gas industry has reset the mix of Manitoba's economic drivers.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Oil-drilling rigs near Waskada, Man. The booming growth in the province's oil and gas industry has reset the mix of Manitoba's economic drivers. Photo Store

Every year, the Manitoba Association of Business Economists (MABE) gets together to chew over the provincial economic numbers.

Not surprisingly, the general message and tone does not change much from year to year -- slow and steady growth driven by the classic diversified economy.

One of the most interesting take-aways every year is how that economically diversified deck gets shuffled. Such as when a bumper agricultural crop in 2012 propped up the lagging manufacturing sector or when major institutional construction projects such as the Red River Floodway and Winnipeg's airport picked up the slack during the most recent recession.

Narendra Budhia, director of the economic and fiscal analysis branch of Manitoba Finance, is the repository of all economic number-crunching regarding Manitoba.

His office aggregates the nine economic forecasting agencies and dispassionately tracks the trends.

Among other things, he reported at this year's MABE event Manitoba's economy fared even better during the recession than previously thought -- a 0.2 per cent decline in the provincial GDP in 2009 as opposed to Statistics Canada's previous report of a 0.4 per cent decline. (That's compared with a 2.7 per cent decline across Canada and 2.8 per cent in the United States.)

Budhia noted Manitoba has 11 different economic sectors that each make up at least five per cent of the provincial GDP.

"The range from the largest industry to the smallest is the narrowest among the provinces," he said by way of measuring the level of diversity that exists here.

What's becoming the latest significant reset among the province's economic sectors is the growth in the oil and gas sector.

Exploration and production in southwest Manitoba is on fire. Typically lumped in with mining (which is really driven by different engines), oil and gas have provided the mining sector with enough steam to make it the fastest-growing sector of the economy between 2007 and 2012 and the strongest sector in 2012.

Budhia points out oil and gas now represent 2.5 per cent of the provincial GDP, which is equal to the utilities sector, which, by the way, was the poorest performing of 19 sectors both in the five-year average annual growth rate between 2007 and 2012 (a decline of 1.7 per cent) and in 2012, when there was a 4.5 per cent decline.

The introduction of fracking technology in the oil and gas extraction business has turned North Dakota and Saskatchewan into major oil producers, and even though Manitoba's oilpatch is still limited to the southwestern corner of the province, the new technology has allowed crude oil production in Manitoba to double since 2009 and increase fivefold since 2004.

The impact oil and gas production has on the provincial mining sector is emphasized by the fact heavy-metal commodity prices, the bedrock of the northern Manitoba mining industry, have been coming down, with nickel prices now the lowest since 2009.

The provincial economy is so broadly diversified (including within specific sectors) it can withstand declines in one of its marquee sectors -- hydroelectricity -- because of superior growth in another that not so many years ago was considered almost an afterthought.

Key drivers of the gentle growth that has occurred are the combination of a population growth spurt fuelled by skilled immigrants sponsored through the provincial nominee program and increasing success at developing export markets.

But let's remember all this diversification in Manitoba is generating only modest annual growth rates.

The survey of forecasters has Manitoba's GDP growth rate at 2.6 per cent in 2012 and the forecast is for 1.9 per cent in 2013 and 2.2 per cent in 2013.

Budhia thinks the 2013 numbers might be revised upward when the massive 2013 crop receipts are factored in.

Those numbers would have Manitoba slightly ahead of the national average in 2013 and slightly below it in 2014.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2013 B7

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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