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Canada's chief natural gas supplier province is producing more but enjoying it less, according to government barometers of industry performance.
While Alberta's production grew by 5%, its market value shrank by 6%, show records for the provincial treasury's 2017-2018 fiscal year (FY), which ends this month.
The latest quarterly budget statement by Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci shows that total annual output climbed to 4.4 Tcf for 2017-2018 from 4.2 Tcf in FY2016-17.
But the Alberta Reference Price (ARP) -- the actual weighted average earned by all sales, compiled for royalty collection purposes -- slid to C$1.90/GJ ($1.60/MMBtu) for the FY from C$2.01/GJ ($1.69/MMBtu) in 2016-2017.
The bare numbers fall short of registering the severe disappointment felt by the industry and the treasury. When Ceci presented the provincial budget a year ago, the ARP was forecast to climb by 45% to C$2.90/GJ ($2.44/MMBtu).
The washout this year is leaving Alberta gas royalties, formerly the treasury's top earner, near C$500 million ($400 million), down by 94% from the pre-shale gale peak of C$8.4 billion ($6.7 billion) in 2005-2006.
Although growing British Columbia (BC) gas production has reached 1.6 Tcf/year, Alberta still accounts for nearly three-quarters of the Canadian total. About half is exported to the United States for varying prices in markets across North America.
While acknowledging competition from low-cost U.S. shale supplies, Canadian gas producers also blame their hard-time prices on market access limitations of TransCanada Corp.'s Alberta and BC supply collection grid, Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL).
The pipeline network is responding with facilities additions, although at a gradual pace with projects securely supported by long-term transportation service contracts that require producer commitments often lasting a decade or more.
NGTL's latest step is posting a preliminary project description for a package scheduled for completion in 2021, to increase capacity by 620 MMcf/d at grid inlets and 1 Bcf/d at outlets for C$2.4 billion ($1.9 billion).
In the meantime, three smaller facilities additions are under construction or advancing through regulatory approval stages before the National Energy Board.
Work is nearing completion on a central Alberta project called the Sundre Crossover, a short C$99 million ($80 million) stretch of pipe for a 233 MMcf gain in export delivery capacity to the U.S. Pacific Northwest and California.
NGTL is currently seeking approval for two more Alberta additions: the C$207 million ($166-million) North Path to serve rising gas demand by thermal oilsands plants, and the C$409 million ($327-million) West Path near Calgary for further increases in capacity for flows into export pipelines.