Devine’s Upgraders, Part 1: The two heavy oil upgraders built by the Grant Devine government had a tough opening act, but became anchors for Saskatchewan’s current economy

If you had followed Saskatchewan politics in the 1990s, you would have thought the world was ending as a result of the Grant Devine Progressive Conservative government’s two signature megaprojects, the heavy oil upgraders in Lloydminster and Regina.
With oil price fluctuations dramatically hurting their economics, the Alberta government couldn’t abandon its investment in the Bi-Provincial Upgrader in Lloydminster fast enough, leaving Saskatchewan holding the bag and eventually selling it to Husky in 1998. Similarly, the NewGrade Upgrader in Regina was also wrought with financial and political peril.
These projects are featured in So Much More We Can Be: Saskatchewan’s Paradigm Shift and the Final Chapter on the Devine Government 1982-1991, by Edward Willett, Gerard Lucyshyn and Joseph Ralko. It was published this in 2021 by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and just recently released on at this link. The FCPP asked if I would write about the impact of these upgraders, and I heartily agreed.

For heavy oil to be useful beyond asphalt, you had to process it, or upgrade it, to a thinner, lighter form of oil, known as synthetic crude, before you could further refine it into gasoline, diesel, or myriad other products. And to do that, you need an upgrader. Or two.