As a former long-time Calgarian with family members working in the oil and gas industry, I’m still interested in reading the current news reports about the economic struggles in Alberta.

With the falling price of oil and massive job cuts, it is the toughest financial situation that province has seen in decades – the 1980’s to be exact.

It’s déjà-vu all over again

My husband and I got married in the mid 1970’s, a time of big changes and exciting times in Alberta.

The oil boom resulted in quickly soaring oil prices, which created more multi-millionaires than any time before.  People from all over the country flooded into the province daily in search of high paying jobs and to get a piece of the action.

Related: Boom and Bust

With four thousand people a month moving to Alberta the province’s population increased by one-third, transforming the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. The housing market (and prices) soared with ongoing new construction, while apartment vacancy rates approached zero.

By the early 1980’s, too rapid expansion and a worldwide economic recession hit the industry hard – the Alberta oil boom was over.

Unemployment rose to over 10% and people left the province en masse. Alberta led the nation in foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Give us another oil boom

Popular mid-1980’s bumper sticker

The housing market crunch

By this time I had started my banking career and I was working in the mortgage department. I had the unenviable (and heartbreaking) title of  “Mortgage Foreclosure Specialist.”

In Alberta, there is a clause in many mortgages called “non-recourse” action where the homeowners lose their home, but otherwise have no personal liability. The homeowner can basically just hand the keys to their house over to the bank and say, “Here you go, it’s yours.”

When their houses dropped in value by 20% or more, people just walked away and abandoned them.

Part of my job involved selling these homes at a time when prices were already depressed.

Is this downturn different?

The two downturns share some similarities – a drop in crude oil prices that followed an extended period of exceptional growth, a cooling housing market and rising economic uncertainty.

But the 1980’s were a difference era. The downturn was more severe because of a much weaker world economy and quickly rising inflation. 5-year mortgage interest rates never fell below 10% from 1973 to December of 1991, peaking at just under 22% in 1981. Current interest rates are at historic lows and are unlikely to climb to these levels again.

Related: Renewing your mortgage this year?

Can the oil and gas industry recover again? Oil prices will have to increase substantially to make the very expensive Oil Sands oil production viable.

There’s now a greater interest in alternative and renewable energy sources – hydrogen fuel cells, solar and wind power, to name a few. Will this affect the future of the oil and gas industry?

Only time will tell.

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