Improved natural gas prices have yet to work their way down to the Alberta industry, which remains a spectator as British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba revel in the new environment.
For the first five months of 2008, the three smaller provinces all posted substantial gains in new well licenses, while the Energy Resources Conservation Board in Alberta issued 6,851 permits, off 6 percent from a year earlier and the poorest showing in six years.
The regulator approved 853 licenses in May, down 68 from last year, with conventional gas-targeted permits slipping to 2,831 from 3,096. Oil and bitumen permits tapered off to 1,382 from 1,502. Only coalbed methane activity posted an increase at 607 from 549.
Saskatchewan continued its strong progress, approving 268 oil licenses in May, pushing its oil total for the first five months to 1,187, while gas permits totaled 507 wells, up 23 from May 2007. On the oil front, both the May and year-to-date numbers were the highest this decade, while gas was far short of the May 2005 benchmark of 945.
In gas-prone British Columbia, the five-month tally of 338 was up a mere four wells from 2007, although May surged to 90 permits from 65 last year.
Manitoba recorded 134 permits in the January-May period, an increase of 37 from 2007.
EnCana easily held its leading spot among operators, with 1,493 licenses, although that was down 90 from last year. Canadian Natural Resources climbed to 512 wells from 345 a year earlier.