County of Stettler formally writes off over $4 million in Trident Exploration unpaid taxes

Written by Stu Salkeld

The County of Stettler formally wrote off over $4 million in unpaid property taxes owed by defunct oil and gas company Trident Exploration but councillors were not very happy about the situation.

The resolution to write off the taxes was made at the Jan. 11 regular meeting of council.

County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy presented councillors with a memo stating staff recommended writing off $4,899,322.67 in unpaid property taxes owed by Trident Exploration, plus two tax rolls that were listed as belonging to 1587452 Alberta Ltd.

“So, this is a whopper,” said the CAO, who added the debt was written off years ago but the county wants to try to recover provincial requisitions paid by ratepayers on Trident’s behalf.

“We took the hit a couple of years ago on Trident when they stuck us for over $4 million,” said Cassidy.

Cassidy explained a court case the County of Stettler and Woodlands County filed to try to recover unpaid oil and gas property taxes wasn’t won but the judge did state that municipalities had not been treated fairly in the process.

Readers should not that municipalities have the authority to sell or take ownership of property linked to unpaid taxes to square up the bill.

However, oil and gas properties in Alberta are exempt from this authority, leaving municipalities with few options to recover unpaid taxes.

Cassidy noted other municipalities are also speaking up about this problem and she recommended the County of Stettler request a meeting with the minister of energy to lobby for change.

The staff memo listed dozens of tax rolls owing unpaid property taxes between 2018 to 2022, all except two listed as belonging to Trident Exploration.

Tax Clerk Sharon Larsen told councillors by formally writing off the debts the County of Stettler can apply to the provincial government for refunds on education and other requisitions.

Coun. Les Stulberg observed the county lost almost $5 million in property taxes.

“That’s a tough one,” said Stulberg asking how much the county could potentially recover, with Larsen hesitant to answer as apparently not all calculations have been made.

Larsen estimated if the county is successful it may recover more than $10,000.

The CAO noted that county ratepayers had to pay almost double the education tax to make up for Trident Exploration not paying its tax bill.

Coun. James Nibourg stated he believed oil and gas companies that don’t pay their property taxes, including “bad actors,” should have their officers and directors names publicized. Nibourg stated he felt this should be done because “bad actors” tend to show up again in the industry and do the same thing over again.

Coun. Justin Stevens pointed out the over $4 million loss to County of Stettler ratepayers doesn’t show the entire effect of this problem, as contractors, land owners, operators and employees “…got stiffed.

“It was way above [$4 million] when you include all these other people,” sad Stevens.

Coun. Dave Grover stated he would grudgingly vote to write off the debts but didn’t like it.

“This stinks…I tell you I don’t like it,” said Grover. He noted in years past local businesses who were owed bad debts would put up a sign with the debtor’s name on it plus the amount they owed, and Grover said a sign should be put up on the highway showing how much Trident Exploration “stiffed the county for.”

Reeve Larry Clarke said he felt the executives and directors of the company should be publicized.

“Trident’s just a name,” said the reeve. “It’s the upper executive whose names should be listed.” Clark added that upper executives of Trident Exploration, “…lied to us.”

The reeve stated the best way for the County of Stettler to move forward on this issue is to continue lobbying the government for more accountability for oil and gas companies when it comes to paying property taxes.

Trident Exploration, a privately held company based in Calgary, owned 4,700 wells. It ceased operations April 30, 2019 and a receiver’s report available at PriceWaterhouseCooper’s website states Trident had about $89 million in assets with about the same amount in debts, including about $60 million owed to the Alberta Investment Management Corp.

Documents noted that Trident blamed its financial woes on, among other things, a drop in the price of natural gas, and property tax bills.

Councillors unanimously passed a resolution to write off all of the unpaid property taxes listed in the report and then apply to the province to credit the education and designated industrial property requisitions.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.