Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Petro-Canada is an integrated petroleum corporation based in Calgary, Alberta. It combines "upstream" oil and gas exploration and refining with a "downstream" national chain of service stations. Petro-Canada is the second largest petroleum company in Canada and the largest Canadian-owned operation.

Petro-Canada, founded in 1975 as a petroleum exploration company, was owned by the federal government. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the world was preoccupied by the issues of oil and gas scarcity and cost, and Canada was divided by debates about the effects of foreign ownership as well as by federal-provincial disputes over petroleum taxation and export regulations. As a result, and unlike many "crown corporations" created by federal and provincial governments in strategic industries in twentieth-century Canada, Petro- Canada was less a conventional state enterprise than an instrument of specific national policy in two key ways. First, Petro-Canada was capitalized by the federal treasury through direct cash transfers rather than by bond issues. The company acquired a number of Canadian subsidiaries of international oil firms, including Atlantic Richfield in 1976, Pacific Petroleum in 1979, Petrofina in 1981, and British Petroleum in 1983. Second, when the government of Canada created a new National Energy Programme (NEP) in 1980, a statist reaction to the energy crisis, the nep granted Petro-Canada the federal share of oil and gas prospects on all federal crown land, including Arctic and Atlantic offshore prospects as well as a share of Syncrude Canada's northern Alberta bituminous sands synthetic oil.

The federal election of 1984 saw a change of government and national energy policy. The new policies of fiscal restraint, free trade, and privatization reoriented Petro-Canada to a more conventional petroleum company. In 1991 it issued common shares, creating private ownership in about 20 percent of the company. In 1995 a larger issue of shares reduced the federal government stake to below 20 percent. The company acquired other firms, including Gulf Canada's service stations in 1985 and the Amerada Hess holdings in 1995. Petro-Canada is the operator of the large Hibernia oil field, which became the first producing field in the Atlantic offshore in 1997, and is currently developing other offshore fields as well as a new bituminous sands project.

Barry Ferguson University of Manitoba

Fossum, John E. Oil, the State, and Federalism: The Rise and Demise of Petro-Canada as a Statist Impulse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

Foster, Peter. Self-Serve: How Petro-Canada Pumped Canada Dry. Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter and Ross, 1992.

Petro-Canada, Annual Reports, 1976–2000.

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