June 4, 2020 / 6:17 PM / a month ago

Hard-hit Canadian oil companies still waiting for Trudeau loans

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian oil producers sideswiped by economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic have received no federal loans, seven weeks after the first lending program was announced, government and industry officials said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau waits for a meeting of the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic to begin, as efforts continue to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced loans and loan guarantees for small and midsize energy companies in April, and credit for large employers in numerous sectors including energy on May 11, to survive an oil price crash sparked by the pandemic.

But limited details about the funding and strict criteria have kept a cap on applications.

“We have not seen one company access credit in any of those programs to my knowledge,” said Jeff Tonken, chairman of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the chief executive of Birchcliff Energy.

The lack of approved loans appears due to red tape and some ill-advised criteria, he said. Some producers have asked banks to delay scheduled review periods for their existing credit lines while they investigate the government loans, he added.

Oil prices have started to rebound, improving cash flow but damage to balance sheets remains. Small producer Cequence Energy last week filed for creditor protection and Delphi Energy did so in April. A distressed sale of Bellatrix Exploration closed on Monday.

The large-employer loan terms have proven impractical, Tonken said.

“You almost have to be out of money to apply,” he said. “We don’t wait until we’re out of money and then make a phone call.”

The large-employer program started accepting applications on May 20 and has not approved any yet, confirmed Maeva Proteau, spokeswoman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Liquidity for smaller energy companies via Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada (EDC), will begin flowing within weeks, she said.

EDC said in April it would backstop up to 75% of a reserve-based bank loan, to a maximum of C$100 million, for at least one year.

Gear Energy, TORC Oil and Gas, Kelt Exploration, InPlay Oil Corp and Cardinal Energy are among producers that have expressed an interest in federal credit.

But it remains unclear who qualifies and under what terms, Cardinal Energy Chief Executive Scott Ratushny said from Calgary.

“I think the whole town is waiting for EDC to sort out what their lending policy is going to be,” he said.

Basic information about how soon funds will be available and for how long are lacking, and terms such as the requirement for companies to issue warrants are “punitive,” said Jonathan Wright, Chief Executive of NuVista Energy.

“I think the government means well but details are fairly opaque,” he said.

Meanwhile some lenders are stepping up pressure.

NuVista’s banks cut its credit facility last week by 14%. Athabasca Oil Corp said on Monday it hoped to access government help after bankers cut its credit by 65%.

Cardinal Energy is restoring production to generate cash as crude prices rally while it awaits details on EDC aid, Ratushny said.

“We just want to live to fight another day,” he said.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Jeff Lewis in Toronto; additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and Tom Brown

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