Addressing unpaid oil and gas taxes

Rural municipalities have been lobbying the government for several years on the issue of unpaid oil and gas industry taxes. It’s been a real thorn in the side, and has hit some M.D.s and counties a lot harder than others.

It took quite a long while for it to gain any traction. The government was fond of saying, ‘Talk to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). It’s their business.’ And the AER kept telling the Rural Municipalities Association, ‘It’s not our business to chase your taxes.’

This of course was not what municipalities wanted or needed to hear, and they made sure their elected representatives heard it, loud and clear.

Last week, something appeared to break. The government announced it has given a “new directive” to the AER, that it needs to “require oil and gas companies to pay taxes owed to municipalities.”

Energy Minister Peter Guthrie promised “real consequences for those delinquent companies.”

Among those consequences will be a refusal of new permits or applications for license transfers, if municipal taxes are found owing. And it’s up to the company to show that they are in the clear.

That’s how the program is envisioned to work. If (or when) oil drops to $30 a barrel again, chances are the government will soften up on a lot of things. Just like it did the last time, when it offered the now infamous ‘tax holiday’ on new drilling and other new energy infrastructure. The M.D. of Lesser Slave River estimates it has lost out on roughly $3.5 million in property taxes in the past couple of years due to a program that has been completely unnecessary since the price of oil rebounded a couple of years ago. As M.D. councillors are fond of pointing out, the government was very generous when it came to giving away municipal revenue; not so much with their own royalty income.

However, this latest move on unpaid o & g taxes seems to be a step in the right direction. It’s worth noting, though, that there are loopholes in it as it stands. The new measures the government proposes only kick in after a certain ‘threshold amount’ of unpaid taxes is reached. What that amount might be is to be determined later. By whom? Would it be across the board, or case by case?

Questions still need to be answered.

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