City of Estevan

Exploring the energy city

The City of Estevan in the Southeast corner of Saskatchewan wears the aptly titled moniker of “The Energy City”. A bubbling hub of oil and coal, this friendly city is rich in resources—and looking for investment. This month, CBJ sat down with Mayor Gary St. Onge to talk about the future of this great little city.

There is a certain reputation that an industrial town tends to wear. People perceive it as dreary, dull or dirty. The sunny city of Estevan, however, is anything but that—despite having rich oil and coal resources. In fact, unbeknownst to most Canadians, the city is actually the sunshine capital of the province. “Yes it’s cold, but the sun is always shining,” says St. Onge with a chuckle, pointing out that only one other city in Canada (Medicine Hat, Alberta) has more sunny days per year. It is a city bustling with activity, with a surprisingly young, vibrant population, and the continual beautification of the city is on council’s agenda.  

The importance of energy

Much as its moniker suggests, energy is the lifeblood of Estevan and provides a substantial source of employment for its citizens. Set in the heart of the Bakken oil play, the strategic location has resulted in a wealthy population and a significant revenue stream for the government. In the future, St. Onge sees oil as an integral part of the city for many years to come. “The price of oil has been over $90 the last few weeks and if it continues anywhere over $65 or $70, it is really financially viable.”

In addition to oil, Estevan has a myriad of coal resources, including a major power plant, in operation since 1957, and a second power plant, which was added 15 years ago. The city has a $14 million energy training institute, helping to create a skilled workforce for use with these resources.

When people think of Saskatchewan, they immediately think of agriculture—which indeed still plays a part in the economy. Much of the existing farmland, however, is taken up by coal mines. “About half our area to the east and south is coal,” says St. Onge, “and its strip mining, it’s not like shaft mining so it takes a fair amount of area.” It is the combination of many sectors—including manufacturing, power generation, mining, and agriculture—which together keep Estevan prosperous. “Agriculture has been important to us in the past and it still is…but because of the diversity it makes it better for us,” says St. Onge.

“When you have bad years it helps stabilize the economy.”

The Boundary Dam Clean Coal demonstration project is a prime example of one of the many important energy projects in the city. The government recently announced the refit of one of the units, an exciting development for the city. Clean coal is going to be an important part of the future, according to St. Onge.

“Coal is looked at unfavourably by environmentalists but we’re cleaning it up to the point where I think it will be environmentally friendly.”

The plant is a ground-breaking institute and has developed an impressive process. “You take out all the carbon dioxide particles called scrubbers and basically all that is going up the stack is mostly moisture,” St. Onge says.

Investing in Estevan

Estevan is a city that is open for business and the municipality is actively seeking outside investment. It is a strategic location for business, only minutes across the border to the United States. The city has experienced a boom from its energy sector and has worked diligently to catch up with infrastructure requirements. In 2009, a dip in the price of oil left the city slightly less busy, which was a much-needed break to “catch up”. One particular area of interest is housing, which is still catching up to the demands of Estevan’s 13,000 and growing population.

There are numerous incentives being brought in to encourage the development of more housing, and St. Onge is excited about the prospect of an outside developer who is coming to develop some housing on one of the available lots. “That’s what most of the bigger cities do. They don’t do their own lot development, they find investors who will develop lots,” St. Onge says, providing further testament to the prospects of this small city.

The city is anticipating even greater growth and prosperity. St. Onge speaks of the energy which is “bubbling”, and many exciting opportunities which will come in the near future. “We have people here every day that come in and are looking to invest.”

St. Onge makes sure to stress the council’s interest in finding outside investment into the city. “Previous councils were not as interested as we are in talking to outside investment. We want investors to know that we are open for business, friendly, receptive, and we’re going to help anyway we can. We are really, really business friendly,” he says. “Bottom line: we want investment and we’re prepared to work with you.”

The City of Estevan has a bustling economy, great investment opportunities, and is just a great place to live. From its renowned bass fishing, to its strategic location next to the U.S., to a sunny day more often than not, it begs the question: Why not invest in Estevan?