Heavy Oil Trumped in Alberta?

The new presidency of the United States of America allowed for some cautious optimism for western Canada’s oil and gas sector. Among the most immediately asked questions was whether Keystone XL would become approved. Well, it did not take long for President Trump to take a page out of Christy Clark’s playbook and suggest that of course Keystone XL will be approved – for a “big, big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights.” Well, I suppose from the USA (and BC) point of view, that makes sense, but one has to wonder about the viability of what amounts to export taxes on Alberta crude. After all, production costs for oil in Alberta are already higher than most competitors. In Alberta we mostly exploit (1) smaller conventional oil or gas reservoirs, (2) large heavy oil reservoirs that often require steam or heat to encourage the oil to move through the rock, and (3) low permeability (tight) reservoirs that need expensive fracture completions to become productive. This is all in a fairly well regulated landscape.

President Trump, on the other hand, stands in determined opposition of environmental restrictions and seemingly plans to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency. If this happens USA oil and gas producers will drastically reduce production costs. Bear in mind that production costs in the USA are already lower than Canada’s: this is owing to the fact that labor is cheaper in the USA and that their infrastructure is commonly better established and in denser networks. What the heck, throw in Texas’ recent oil discoveries and we have every excuse to get a little edgy about the viability of our oily resources in the north. The question is how does Alberta stay competitive? Do we find new markets? Reduce production costs somehow? Focus on LNG to Liquid?

Tell us what you think!