Incredible numbers continue to emanate from Alberta’s oilpatch. Just days after Calgary-based oilsands giant Suncor Energy Inc. announced that its cash operating costs per barrel are an incredibly low $23-$26, Scott Saxberg, Crescent Point Energy Corp.’s president and CEO, announced that cost-savings measures – implemented with much pain over the past two years – will allow the firm to make money.
Crescent Point no longer will outspend cash flow, as it and other like firms have done routinely over the past few years. This change will allow Crescent Point to take advantage of even minor hikes in the price of oil. Saxberg says that every dollar that the price of oil rises will result in an extra $65 million in cash flow for the company.
And the price of oil is up. West Texas Intermediate crude has hovered around US$55 a barrel in recent months, and that’s good enough. As far as Alberta is concerned, I think of that price, or maybe just a bit higher – say, US$60 a barrel – as the sweet spot. I’m not talking about what might be best for the oil and gas producers, which undoubtedly would welcome higher prices, regardless of inflationary pressures; rather, I’m talking about what’s best for the province. An oil price of $55 is enough to keep Alberta’s economy strong, but not so high as to drive the ridiculous prices and measures – such as flying planeloads of workers from the East Coast – when prices spike higher.
Even through the recent recession, Alberta has maintained the highest median income across all family types (before and after income taxes are subtracted) in Canada and the lowest incidence of low income.
The oil producers are spending and they’re healthy. For example, Suncor announced a capital-spending program of $4.5 billion-$5 billion for 2018. That’s down by $750 million from 2017, but the company anticipates production will jump by more than 10%. Suncor and other producers are using technology and data analytics to produce more oil and gas from existing wells, pits and fracs. That bodes well for the companies, their shareholders and the provincial government, the last of which is so dependent on oil and gas revenue.
At the same time, the oilfield services companies that survived the economic wringer of the past few years are beginning to see increased margins. Competition for talent is heating up: hiring fairs, from Grande Prairie to Red Deer, are oversubscribed.
All this is happening with mostly bad news on the pipeline front. Energy East has been shelved; TransMountain is stuck in purgatory; and even the recent decision by the Nebraska Public Service Commission to approve Keystone XL came with a caveat: the commission approved a longer “mainline” option rather than TransCanada Corp.’s preferred route. That company now will go about getting easements along the mainline route and, the industry hopes, continue on the path of getting the pipeline built.
From the point of view of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, Keystone XL is the big prize, and is expected to deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day to the refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. This pipeline is a wild card that would boost the industry for the next couple of decades.
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