Over the last fortnight the Oilholic has been examining the fallout from the US government’s announcement delaying a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and its decision to explore alternative routes for it from Alberta, Canada to Texas, USA (See map. Click image to enlarge).
To begin with, it gave Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper an opportunity trumpet his country's new-found assertiveness in the energy sphere. A mere three days after the US State department announced the delay, Harper told President Obama, whom he met at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Hawaii, that his government was working to forcefully advance a trade strategy that looks towards the Asia Pacific.
Harper had strong language for the President and told reporters that since the project will now be delayed for over a year, Canada must (also) look elsewhere. "This highlights why Canada must increase its efforts to ensure it can supply its energy outside the United States and into Asia in particular. And that in the meantime, Canada will step up its efforts in that regard and I communicated that clearly to the president,” he said.
Of course, this version differs significantly from what the White House said but it gives you a flavour of the frustration being felt in Canada. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) says the US government’s decision was disappointing given the three years of extensive analysis already completed and after the US government’s own environmental impact assessment determined the proposed Keystone XL pipeline routing would not have an undue environmental impact.
CAPP President Dave Collyer, whom the Oilholic met back in March, said, “Keystone XL is not about America using more oil, it’s about the source of America’s oil – Canada or elsewhere. It’s also about common economic and geopolitical interests between Canada and the US. While the Keystone delay is unfortunate, we respect the United States regulatory process and remain optimistic the pipeline will be approved on its strong environmental, economic and energy security merits.”
CAPP also seeks to look at the positives and maintains that Canadian oil sands production will not be impacted in the near term and other alternatives are being pursued to ensure market access over the medium term. Simply put, delaying Keystone XL will motivate exploration of other markets for Canadian crude oil products as the Canadian PM has quite clearly stated.
Moving beyond the geopolitical scenario, ratings agency Moody's feels the Keystone XL delay is credit positive for TransCanada Pipelines (TCPL) – the project saga’s chief protagonist – although it does not change TCPL's A3 Senior Unsecured rating or stable outlook given the relative size of the Keystone XL project to TCPL's existing businesses.
In a note to clients on Nov 11, the agency noted that the announcement was likely to cause a material delay in the potential construction of that pipeline, which will actually benefit TCPL's liquidity, leverage and free cash flow, providing the company with a greater financial cushion with which to undertake the project if and when it is fully approved.
Moody's also does not expect the Company to undertake share buybacks with the funds not invested in Keystone XL due to the approval delay. TCPL's liquidity will improve as the construction delay will defer over $5 billion of additional capex (compared to TCPL's total assets of approximately $46 billion).
Furthermore, 75% of additional costs associated with the delay or rerouting is expected to be largely borne by the shippers rather than TCPL. Moody's expects the shippers to agree to a project delay, but that is not certain.
“While the delay may reduce TCPL's growth prospects in the medium term, that is not a major influence in the Company's credit rating. Should the project ultimately be cancelled, Moody's expects that the pipe, which is the largest component of the $1.9 billion that TCPL has already invested in the project and which is already reflected in the company's financial statements, would be repurposed to other projects that would presumably generate additional cash to TCPL over the medium term,” it concludes.
Since then, the US state of Nebraska and TCPL have agreed to find a new route for the stalled pipeline that would ensure it does not pass through environmentally sensitive lands in the state. The deal with Nebraska would see the state fund new studies to find a route that would avoid the Sandhills region and the Ogallala aquifer.
However, the deal will not alter the timeline for a US Federal review, according to the State Department. That means, as the Oilholic noted earlier, the Obama Administration will not have to deal with the issue until after the 2012 election. While that’s smart politics, its dumb energy economics. Right now it appears that the Canadians have less to lose than the Americans.
Moving away from Keystone XL, the crude markets began the week with a bang as the ICE Brent forward month futures contract climbed over US$3 to US$109 per barrel but the rise across the pond was more muted with WTI ending the day at US$98.20 unable to hold on to earlier gains. Jack Pollard, analyst at Sucden Financial Research, feels that Middle-Eastern tensions provided significant support to the upside momentum.
“Yesterday we had the first day of Egyptian elections, with the final vote not due until early to middle January and the interim prospect of further violence could maintain volatility. Furthermore, the pressure on Syria increased even further with some suggesting a no-fly zone could be in the offing,” he said.
However, the Oilholic and Pollard are in agreement that the main market driver emanated from Iran. “Ever since the IAEA report on November 8th we have seen the possibility of supply disruptions contribute to crude oil price’s resilience relative to the rest of the commodity complex. On Monday, we heard reports that Iran’s government had officially voted in favour of revising down their diplomatic relations with the UK, ejecting the ambassador. Should the situation escalate further, the potential for upside could increase significantly, disproportionately so for Brent,” Pollard concludes.
© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Map: All proposals of Canadian & US Crude Oil Pipelines © CAPP (Click map to enlarge)
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