Saturday, November 17, 2018

Oil prices for Alberta's oil sands put the writing on the wall

I knew the price of oil was currently languishing in the basement because I keep reading about all the handwriting going on in Alberta, but so hadn't appreciated just how bad things were.
Then, when I read that the price per barrel was adult an all-time low of US$14, I was really shocked. But it turns out that that is the price of Alberta oil sands heavy oil. Which is shocking enough, because that's mainly what Canada has.
A quick check of the main oil price benchmarks as at 15 November 2018 shows West Texas Intermediate (WTI), probably the most-quote metric of oil prices around the world, at about UD$56 a barrel, which is low, but not shockingly low. Western Canadian Select (WCS) is indeed at about US$14 a barrel, a discount of over US$40 a barrel!
So, it's probably no surprise, then, that overseas investors have vacated the Alberta oil patch like rats from a sinking ship, leaving only Canadian operators in the oil sands game. Oil sands production is expensive, certainly compared to US shale oil from tracking operations. It is also much more carbon intensive than other extraction methods, who that not seem a big deal in today's climate change climate, but it still has some impact on long-term prices and investment decisions. And, last but not least, pipelines to transport that heavy crude are at a premium, with the TransMountain pipeline far from built, and a new legal challenge to the Keystone XL like to the south.
It also throws new questions on why the federal government chose to throw a big chunk of taxpayers' money into the TransMountain pipeline project that no-one else wanted. Maybe that money would have been better spent on a more 21st century solution to the energy problem.

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