Showing posts with label Stephen Harper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephen Harper. 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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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Railway oil tankers outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada © Gaurav Sharma, March 2011.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Tankers in English Bay & Canada's Confidence

The Oilholic headed to downtown Vancouver from the suburbs this afternoon, up on Burrard Street, turning right on Davie Street, down Jervis Street straight through to Sunset Beach in order to get a look in at the English Bay which is quite a sight. Standing bang in the middle of the beach, to your left would be Granville Island, the Burrard Bridge overlooking it and Granville Bridge reaching out to it.

To your right would be two more beaches and Stanley Park on the Vancouver Downtown Peninsula and looking out to the horizon you’ll see pristine waters of the Bay littered with tankers (see image above on the left, click to enlarge). The view is a vindication of Western Canada’s growing crude credentials and its clout in the world of oil & gas exports. Yours truly and other onlookers would often spot the odd oil or LNG tanker on the horizon making its way to or from Vancouver Harbour and docking bays on the inlet towards Port Moody. However, this afternoon the Oilholic counted 12 tankers - the most yours truly has ever counted on five previous visits to the Bay!

There is a new found confidence in the Canadian energy business and a palpable shift in the balance of economic prowess from a manufacturing-led East Coast/Eastern dominated macroeconomic dynamic of the 1950s to a natural resources-led West Coast/Western dominated economy since 2005 or thereabouts. Furthermore, an ever mobile financial services sector with its hubs in Montreal and Toronto now looks increasingly Westwards. Law firms and advisory firms are increasing their presence in Western Canada by expanding practices and a network of partners in Calgary and Vancouver.

Calgary now has more corporate headquarters than Montreal. Of the top 20 most profitable Canadian companies by exchange filings in 2010, eight were natural resources companies with a Western Canadian slant (viz. Suncor, Barrick, Imperial Oil, PCS, Teck, CNR, Goldcorp and EnCana).

A recently spurned merger between natural resources and banking sector(s) dominated stock exchanges of London (LSE) and Toronto (TSX) would have been ideal. But much to the dismay of the Oilholic, the Canadians involved wanted to go it alone and whether you agree or not. In more ways than one LSE and TSX are rivals, especially when it comes to attracting mining companies.

Switching tack to big shots in Ottawa – well to begin with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an Alberta man. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and the inimitable Rt. Hon. Joe Oliver – the country’s Natural Resources Minister and the most vocal among his G7 peers with an identical ministerial portfolio – are all ‘Western’ Canadians.

Having visited Canada on an annual basis since 2001, the Oilholic has seen the transformation of Canadian politics and the country’s economy first hand and it has been extraordinary in a positive sense. Harper’s “ocean of oil soaked sand” in Northern Alberta has more of the crude stuff than any other crude exporting country bar Saudi Arabia. Let’s not forget the Saudis’ reserves position has been verified by Aramco, Canada’s has been subjected to scrutiny by half world’s independent verifiers of different political leanings and persuasions.

The total value Canada’s natural resources according to various estimates at 2009 prices comes in at US$1.1 trillion to US$1.6 trillion, with the bituminous bit and shale alone accounting for at least 45% per cent of that depending on which financial analyst or economist you speak to.

“Canada’s biggest advantage as an oil exporter in the eyes of the world is that it’s no Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, in a business full of unsavoury characters, dealing with Canadians makes for a welcome change,” quips one patriotic analyst on condition of anonymity.

In the oil business there are no moral absolutes and no linear path to the Promised ‘Crude’ Land. Canada will have its fair share of challenges related to extracting, refining and marketing the oil. The will to do so is certainly there and so are the buyers. The Oilholic’s timber trade analogy has won him quite a few beers from Canadians and pragmatic macro analysts who loved it. There is an unassailable truth here – American dithering and often unjust punitive action against Canadian timber exports in the 1990s lead a Liberal party-governed Canada to look Eastwards to Japan and China.

Fast forward to 2011-2012 and history is repeating itself with President Obama’s dithering over Keystone XL (although TransCanada’s reputation in relation to leaks has not helped either). Akin to the 1990s, there are other buyers in town for the Canadian crude stuff, with India joining the tussle for Canadian attention along with Japan, South Korea and China.

When a Liberal-led Canadian federal government looked elsewhere in the 1990s to market and sell its dominant natural resource at the time, if the US government thinks a present-day Conservative government with a parliamentary majority and a forceful character like Stephen Harper at the helm won’t do likewise (and sooner) when it comes to oil, then they are kidding themselves more than anyone else.

The presence of Korean, Indian and Chinese NOCs can be felt alongside top 20 IOCs in Calgary. Not a single oil major worth its weight in crude oil has chosen to ignore the oil sands, just as onlookers at Sunset Beach can’t ignore tankers on the English Bay horizon. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil & LNG tankers on the English Bay horizon, British Columbia, Canada © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Canadian & Russian supply risk scenarios

Happy Easter folks! Following on from California, the Oilholic is once again back in Beautiful British Columbia, as vehicle licence plates from the province would point out, should you need reminding in these serene picturesque surroundings. When talking non-OPEC supply of the crude stuff – Russia and Canada always figure prominently in recent discussions, the latter more so than ever.

In fact, when it comes to holding exposure to oil price sensitivity, as recommended by some analysts for the next two quarters, via mixed bag of investments – Russian equities and “natural resources linked” (and not yet showing signs of Dutch disease) Forex including the Russian Rouble and the Canadian dollar are flagged-up more often than ever. In fact the Canadian Dollar, often called south of the border by Americans as the “Loonie” (based on a common bird on the CAD$1 coin), is proving pricier and more worthy than the world’s reserve currency itself in the post-Global financial crisis years.

Between Russia and Canada, given that the latter has a more diverse range of exports, the Russians have a bigger problem when it comes to oil price swings. In fact, ratings agency S&P reckons that a sustained fall in the price of oil could damage the Russian economy and public finances and consequently lead to a cut of the long-term sovereign rating.

"We estimate that a US$10 decline in oil prices will directly and indirectly lead to a 1.4% of GDP decline in government revenues. In a severe stress scenario, where a barrel of Urals oil drops to, and stays at, an average US$60, we would expect the general government to post a deficit above 8% of GDP. In that scenario, the long-term ratings on the Russian Federation could drop by up to three notches," says S&P credit analyst Kai Stukenbrock.

The rise in oil prices over the past decade has supported an expansionary fiscal policy, while still allowing the country to build up fiscal reserves. Still, fiscal expansion, not least significant countercyclical spending during the recent crisis, has led to a significant increase in expenditures relative to GDP.

As a result, despite record revenues from oil in 2011, S&P estimates the general Russian government surplus at merely 0.8% of GDP. To balance the budget in 2012, the agency thinks the government will require an average oil price of US$120 per barrel.

While former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin has also expressed fears of Russian over reliance on the price of oil, most analysts have a base price range of US$90 to 100 for 2012. So a fear it may well be; it remains what it is – a fear! Another ratings agency – Moody’s noted last month that as a result of financial flexibility built up over the past two years, rated Russian integrated oil & gas companies will be able to accommodate volatility in oil prices and other emerging challenges in 2012 within their current rating categories.

"In 2011, rated Russian players continued to demonstrate strong operating and financial results, underpinned by elevated oil prices," says Victoria Maisuradze, an Associate Managing Director in Moody's Corporate Finance Group. "Indeed, operating profits are likely to remain stable in 2012 as an increased tax and tariff burden will offset the benefits of high crude oil prices. All issuers have stable outlooks and our outlook for the sector is stable."

Nevertheless, developing reserves in new regions remains a major challenge for Russia as traditional production areas deplete; a problem which the Canadians don’t have to contend with. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose hand is now politically more stronger than ever, told an audience in London that Canada was ranked third in the world for gas production, seventh in oil production, the market leader in hydroelectricity and uranium. He described it six years ago as “just the beginning.”

Harper’s journey to make Canada an ‘energy superpower’ is well and truly underway. The Oilholic charted the view from Calgary on his visit to Alberta last year and has followed the shenanigans related to the US ‘dis’-approval of Keystone XL pipeline project over the course of 2011-12. Over the coming days, yours truly would revisit the subject with a take on prospective exports to Asia via British Columbia.

Continuing with non-OPEC supplies, the Oilholic’s old contact in Warsaw – Arkadiusz Wicik, Director of Energy, Utilities and Regulation at Fitch Ratings – believes Shale gas in Poland could still be a game changer for the country's energy sector despite the disappointing shale gas reserve estimate published in March by the Polish Geological Institute (PGI).

PGI assessed most likely recoverable shale gas reserves to be between 0.35 and 0.77 trillion cubic meters (tcm), which is about one-tenth the 5.3 tcm estimated by the US Energy Information Administration in April 2011. PGI estimates maximum recoverable shale gas reserves at 1.92 tcm.

Wicik believes it is still too early to make any meaningful assumptions about the future of shale gas in Poland, believed to have one of the highest development potentials in Europe. “Less than 20 exploration wells have been drilled by domestic and foreign companies, in many cases with disappointing results. From a credit perspective, we view shale gas exploration as high risk and capital intensive. Partnerships among domestic companies to share exploration risks and costs, or more participation by foreigners would be positive,” he says.

Exploration by Poland's energy companies at an early stage gives them a chance to become major players should the commercial availability of gas be proven over the next several years. This was not the case in the US, where the shale gas industry was developed by a number of smaller, independent players as the Oilholic noted in a special report for Infrastructure Journal. Large US oil and gas companies have only recently started to be active in the sector, mostly through acquisitions.

Wicik notes, “We do not expect that the success in the US, which led to about a 50% decrease in US gas prices between 2008 and 2011, will be easily replicated in Poland. Commercial production in the first five to 10 years is unlikely to substantially lower gas prices given high breakeven costs. Also, Poland and the US differ both in terms of shale formations and the gas market structure.”

A number of foreign companies already have exploration concessions for shale gas in Poland, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips (through a service agreement with Lane Energy), Marathon Oil and Eni. Local players that have been granted exploration concessions include PGNiG, PKN Orlen, Grupa Lotos and Petrolinvest.

Another three large domestic companies - PGE, Tauron, and KGHM - also plan to enter shale gas exploration. In January 2012, they signed three separate letters of intent with PGNiG regarding cooperation in shale gas projects. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Refinery, Quebec, Canada © Michael Melford / National Geographic.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Keystone XL’s delay is not such a bad thing!

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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