Nebraska farmers, their state government, environmentalists, the White House and U.S. shale drilling have prodded the Canadian gas and oil industry into making a sharp break with old habits of depending on North American demand for its products.
A successful auction of capacity on an export pipeline project aimed at Asia confirmed that serious intentions to take action underlie a change in views recorded in an annual “state of the industry” survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. “No longer will the United States be regarded as Canada’s only market,” the accounting firm said. “Instead, it will be one of many potential markets for Canadian crude oil, refined products and, most recently, liquefied natural gas.”
The review of industry thinking was released at the same time that Kinder Morgan Canada confirmed that the new views are real by announcing final agreements with shippers on a 150% capacity increase for its Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta’s Edmonton oil hub to its Westridge Marine Terminal for tankers in Vancouver.
The schedule for the C$4.1 billion (U.S. dollar at par) project calls for completion in 2017 of a twinning of the 59-year-old pipeline, to accelerate deliveries to 750,000 b/d from 300,000. Much of the new traffic is expected to come from growing oilsands plants in northern Alberta. The project volume exceeds initial estimates by about 150,000 b/d, and the final transportation service contracts fell only 100,000 b/d short of a potential maximum 850,000 b/d recorded in early rounds of the open season capacity auction.
Just a year earlier, both the pipeline project and the widespread industry support for an overseas marketing drive were, at most, remote prospects that generated chatter at business conferences and lofty debates in regulatory circles but little action. The consensus in the industry capital of Calgary was that Pacific Coast pipeline projects — Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway proposal for an entirely new conduit from Edmonton to a tanker dock at Kitimat, BC, as well as the Trans Mountain scheme — were long-range preparations for an unknown but likely distant time when U.S. outlets for Canadian production might become saturated. Global marketing was a controversial idea, dismissed as uneconomic by corporate leaders and promoted chiefly by armchair industrial generals in the universities and elder veterans of provincial and federal politics.
The turning point was the refusal last fall by the White House to grant a presidential construction permit for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL export pipeline project as a result of route objections in Nebraska and resistance by environmentalists. The regulatory setback drove home economic lessons of U.S. shale gas and oil development: U.S. energy markets are becoming increasingly competitive, and Canadian exporters face a fight for sales.
“The factors that have contributed to Canada’s growing productive capacity for crude oil and natural gas — horizontal wells with multi-stage fracture stimulation completions — are also at play in the United States,” the accounting firm said. PricewaterhouseCoopers pointed to U.S. forecasts that U.S. oil and gas liquids output could jump within 10 years by 74% to 14 million b/d from the 2011 average of 4.5 million b/d. As a result, “Canadian producers will need to compete for market share with significant new shale gas and tight oil supplies in the United States,” the accounting firm said.
Most Canadian industry and government leaders still believe the Keystone XL decision was only a temporary political setback until after the 2012 U.S. election and that the project will eventually be built as an express route from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast, PricewaterhouseCoopers said.
But the case sent a message that will not be forgotten any time soon: Canadian industry faces political risk in the U.S. As a clear statement of the new consensus, PricewaterhouseCoopers recited a statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an address to Canadian and American business and government elites at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC.
“We cannot be in a situation where really our one and only energy partner can say ‘no’ to our energy products,” the Conservative prime minister said. “The very fact that a ‘no’ can be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets.”
Alberta’s 41-year-old Conservative government, re-elected April 30, Thursday echoed Harper in its throne speech, a Canadian ritual for laying out political agendas akin to U.S. presidential state of the union addresses.
“The industry depends on access to new markets,” said the Alberta speech. The program includes an efficiency overhaul of Alberta regulatory agencies and national work on a “Canadian energy strategy” with the federal government and other provinces affected by industrial expansion projects like BC, which new pipelines aimed at launching tanker exports have to cross over resistance by native and environmental groups.
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