Showing posts with label Great Alberta Oil Patch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Alberta Oil Patch. Show all posts

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Keystone XL farce and rail freighters' smiles

The Obama administration’s long anticipated rejection of the Keystone XL project – an extension [from Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas] to the already existing transnational pipeline between Canada and the US – on 5 November hardly came as a surprise to the oil and gas industry. But is it finally the end of the saga? Not quite, only for the Obama White House staff. 

Once a new US president is in, the project sponsors can, should they choose to do so (and is quite likely they will), launch a fresh application with amendments and new proposals. Quite frankly, the development might be new but the talking points aren’t.

The saga has dragged on and on for seven years and descended into a farce that even provided material for comedian Jon Stewart on more than one occasion (click here). However jokes apart whatever side of the argument you are, that the whole thing got dragged into the quagmire of US politics in the way that it did, is no laughing matter.

This blogger has always maintained that the project's rejection is not some sort of a fatal blow to Canada’s oil and gas industry, but rather an inconvenience and one that has arrived at a time of wider difficulties in the market. Several analysts in Canadian financial circles concur and rail freight companies probably cheered the rejection, despite their own problems with safety related issues and incidents when it comes to moving crude oil.

Of course, moving crude by rail to the Gulf Coast costs almost double per barrel in the region of $7.00 to $11, but for some it won't be a choice. Moving crude by rail is also probably twice as much environmentally unfriendly, something few of the pipeline extension's naysayers appear to be touching on.

There will need to be some medium term adjustments. As the Oilholic noted in 2013, TransCanada is already forging ahead with a West to East pipeline corridor aimed at bringing domestic crude in meaningful volumes from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick by 2017 and 2018 respectively. Additionally, considerable amount of lobbying is afoot in terms of looking towards Eastern markets, especially China (despite the recent oil price decline), via British Columbia’s coastline

As for the near term, Moody’s expects currently available pipeline and rail transportation to meet anticipated production growth through to the fourth quarter of 2017.

“Post 2017, we expect that as oil egress from Canada becomes constrained, additional rail capacity will fill the void until one of the three proposed major domestic pipelines – Trans Canada's Energy East, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion or Enbridge's Northern Gateway – is approved and built,” said Moody’s analyst Terry Marshall. 

There already exists about 550,000 barrels per day (bpd) of unused rail capacity in Western Canada at present, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' (CAPP) data. That’s over and above the approximate 200,000 bpd of capacity that will be used to ship oil in 2015, and few, including Moody’s analysts, are in any doubt that moving crude by rail will rise in all likelihood.

Rail freighters' joy is also likely to be further prolonged by the current political climate in Canada. With the oil and gas industry friendly Stephen Harper administration having been voted out after nine years in office, it is all but guaranteed the new Liberal Party Government's pre-election promise to “rework the domestic pipeline approval process” will go ahead.

Not quite clear on the minutiae and what this would entail until details are published and then put to the Canadian parliament later down the year. However, having seen plenty of such overtures in numerous jurisdictions, the Oilholic feels an increase in cost and timescale of the regulatory process is highly likely, alongside the escalating cost of environmental compliance in Canada. 

All of this comes at a time when Canadian oil exploration and production companies could well have done without it. A tough few years are on the horizon. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Railway oil tankers outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada © Gaurav Sharma, March 2011.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The $40-50 range, CAPP on Capex & Afren's woes

The first month of oil trading in 2015 is coming to a much calmer end compared to how it began. The year did begin with a bang with Brent shedding over 11% in the first week of full trading alone. Since then, the only momentary drama took place when both Brent and WTI levelled at US$48.05 per barrel at one point on January 16. Overall, both benchmarks have largely stayed in the $44 to $49 range with an average Brent premium of $3+ for better parts of January.

There is a growing realisation in City circles that short sellers may have gotten ahead of themselves a bit just as those going long did last summer. Agreed, oil is not down to sub-$40 levels seen during the global financial crisis. However, if the price level seen then is adjusted for the strength of the dollar now, then the levels being seen at the moment are actually below those seen six years ago.

The big question right now is not where the oil price is, but rather that should we get used to the $40 to $50 range? The answer is yes for now because between them the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping well over 30 million barrels per day (bpd) and everyone from troubled Libya to calm Canada is prodding along despite the pain of lower oil prices as producing nations.

The latter actually provides a case in point, for earlier in January the Western Canadian Select did actually fall below $40 and is just about managing to stay above $31. However, the Oilholic has negligible anecdotal evidence of production being lowered in meaningful volumes.

For what it’s worth, it seems the Canadians are mastering the art of spending less yet producing more relative to last year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The lobby group said last week that production in Western Canada, bulk of which is accounted for by Alberta, would grow by 150,000 bpd to reach 3.6 million bpd in 2015. 

That’s despite the cumulative capex tally of major oil and gas companies seeing an expected decline of 33% on an annualised basis. The headline production figure is actually a downward revision from CAPP’s forecast of 3.7 million bpd, with an earlier expectation of 9,555 wells being drilled also lowered by 30% to 7,350 wells. Yet, the overall production projection is comfortably above 2014 levels and the revision is nowhere near enough (yet) to have a meaningful impact on Canada’s contribution to the total global supply pool. 

Coupled with the said global supply glut, Chinese demand has shown no signs of a pick-up. Unless either the supply side alters fundamentally or the demand side perks up, the Oilholic thinks the current price range for Brent and WTI is about right on the money. 

But change it will, as the current levels of production simply cannot be sustained. Someone has to blink, as yours truly said on Tip TV – it’s likely to be the Russians and US independent upstarts. The new Saudi head of state - King Salman is unlikely to change the course set out by his late predecessor King Abdullah. In fact, among the new King’s first acts was to retain the inimitable Ali Al-Naimi as oil minister

Greece too is a non-event from an oil market standpoint in a direct sense. The country does not register meaningfully on the list of either major oil importers or exporters. However, its economic malaise and political upheavals might have an indirect bearing via troubles in the Eurozone. The Oilholic sees $1= €1 around the corner as the dollar strengthens against a basket of currencies. A stronger dollar, of course, will reflect in the price of both benchmarks.

In other news, troubles at London-listed Afren continue and the Oilholic has knocked his target price of 120p for the company down to 20p. First, there was bolt out of the blue last August that the company was investigating “receipt of unauthorised payments potentially for the benefit of the CEO and COO.” 

Following that red flag, just recently Afren revised production estimates at its Barda Rash oilfield in the Kurdistan region of Iraq by 190 million barrels of oil equivalent. The movement in reserves was down to the 2014 reprocessing of 3D seismic shot in 2012 and processed in 2013, as well as results from its drilling campaign, Afren said. 

It is presently thinking about utilising a 30-day grace period under its 2016 bonds with respect to $15 million of interest due on 1 February. That’s after the company confirmed a deferral of a $50 million amortisation payment due at the end of January 2015 was being sought. Yesterday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Afren's Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR), as well as its senior secured ratings, to 'C' from 'B-'. It reflects the agency’s view that default was imminent.

Meanwhile, S&P has downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating to junk status. The agency now rates Russia down a notch at BB+. “Russia’s monetary-policy flexibility has become more limited and its economic growth prospects have weakened. We also see a heightened risk that external and fiscal buffers will deteriorate due to rising external pressures and increased government support to the economy,” S&P noted.

Away from ratings agencies notes, here is the Oilholic’s take on what the oil price drop means for airlines and passengers in one’s latest Forbes piece. Plus, here’s another Forbes post touching on the North Sea’s response to a possible oil price drop to $40, incorporating BP’s pessimistic view that oil price is likely to lurk around $50 for the next three years.

For the record, this blogger does not think oil prices will average around $50 for the next three years. One suspects that neither does BP; rather it has more to do with prudent forward planning. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil pipeline with Alaska's Brooks Range in the background, USA © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The tale of Alberta's first commercial oilfield

A quaint town called Turner Valley in Alberta, Canada may not mean much to the current crop of oil and gas industry observers. However, it has a special place in British history as well as that of the industry itself. Back in 1914, the town acquired the status of Western Canada's oil hub and had the country's first commercial oilfield which, for a while, was the largest oil and gas production base in the entire British Empire as it stood then.
 
Hell’s Half Acre by David Finch is a meticulously researched and entertaining tale of the townsfolk of Turner Valley, and those who came from further afield to make it all happen back in the day. The author, who has been researching the social history of Western Canada’s oil and gas industry since the 1980s and has no fewer than 15 books about the region to his name, recounts where it all began in earnest for the province.
 
The drilling rigs, processing plants and pipelines are all there, and so are anecdotes of the wildcatters and workers who put it all in place, who made it happen and who lived to tell their tales. In order to make for a lively narration, Finch has gelled archived material and the dozens of interviews he conducted extremely well. But this pragmatic book of just over 200 pages, not only narrates a tale of commercial success, but also what costs were paid by Turner Valley in its (and by default) Canada's historic quest for black gold; an effort, which as fate would have it, was sandwiched between the two World Wars.
 
Hell's Half Acre is a very real place in a coulee just outside of Turner Valley, writes Finch. For two decades, companies piped excess natural gas to the lip of this gorge and burned it – in order to produce valuable gasoline they had to also produce the natural gas for which there were limited markets at the time. In fact, the glowing sky could be seen as far south west as Calgary, the author tells us.
 
Canada's national treasure also became a military target for while. At its height, and before peaking in 1942, the Turner Valley provided 10 million barrels per day towards the Allied War Effort. As you would expect, what was then (and still is) a cyclical industry saw its own booms and busts. The companies and their cast of characters from Turner Valley have also been delved into, and in some detail, by Finch.
 
The Oilholic first came across this book on a visit to Calgary and a chance visit to DeMille Bookstore at the recommendation of a local legal expert. For that, this blogger is truly grateful to all parties concerned, and above all to the author for enriching one's knowledge about this fascinating place. Hence, this review was long overdue!
 
Today Turner Valley, a harbinger of the success of Canada's oil and gas industry, is known for tourism, leisure and for being the hometown of Laureen Harper, the frank and vivacious wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So Finch's colourful book could serve as a timely reminder of the importance of a bygone era as Turner Valley begins the countdown to its centennial celebrations of the 1914 discovery of oil.
 
The Oilholic is happy to recommend this book to all those interested in the history of the oil and gas business, origins of the Canadian energy industry, Alberta's place in the global geopolitical oil and gas equation and last, but not the least, anyone seeking a riveting book about the Great Alberta Oil Patch.
 
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover – Hell’s Half Acre © Heritage House Publishing

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