The deluge of Canadian oil that’s adding to a global glut and driving prices lower is showing few signs of slowing.
Even with crude down 52 percent since June, output will grow 3.5 percent this year from the world’s fifth-biggest producer. The Canadian dollar is near a six-year low and materials cost less, helping oil sands producers cut costs and keep pumping. Oil would have to stay between $30 and $35 a barrel for at least six months, down from about $50 now, before wells and mines are shut, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
Surging North American production has contributed to a global glut, pushing U.S. supply to the highest in three decades. OPEC opted in November to maintain output to hold on to market share. Oil sands supply is growing even as the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest in almost four years. RBC Dominion Securities estimates that oil companies have cut $86 billion from spending plans.
Western Canadian Select, the heavy crude that serves as the benchmark for oil sands, traded at $37.30 a barrel today, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It was $13.50 below West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark.
Canada exported 2.93 million barrels a day in the third quarter, 97 percent to the U.S., National Energy Board data show. Canadian production will rise to 3.89 million barrels a day this year, according to the board. Conventional crude and condensate will drop 3 percent, while output of oil sands and upgraded synthetic crude will grow 8.3 percent.
Oil sands companies extract bitumen, a thick hydrocarbon, either by shoveling it from mines or injecting steam into the ground to melt it and then pumping it out. While production from forests of Northern Alberta started in the 1930s, output didn’t ramp up until the late 1960s and 1970s after companies including Suncor Energy Inc. and Syncrude Canada Ltd started operation.
Break-even costs have fallen 18 percent from a year ago and range between $25 a barrel for producers who use steam and $40 for the mining operations, according to Bank of Montreal estimates. This compares with $10 to $25 estimated by the Paris-based International Energy Agency for conventional Middle East and North African producers.
Smaller ProducersWTI fell 47 cents to $50.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 10:27 a.m. New York time. The U.S. benchmark will drop to $39, Jeff Currie, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s New York-based head of commodities research, said Thursday in an interview on Bloomberg Television.
Some Canadian output from smaller producers who have to borrow money may be at risk, Juan Osuna, IHS Energy Inc.’s senior director for North American oil, said by e-mail Feb. 10. Oil sands explorer Laricina Energy Ltd. said last month it was in default.
The Alberta oil sands growth parallels the Gulf of Mexico, another region where producers have invested for the long term. Offshore rigs will rise 30 percent this year compared with 2014, according to data from Wood Mackenzie, an industry consultant.
Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., the main owner of the Syncrude Canada mining project, expects to spend C$40.19 ($32.16) a barrel this year producing synthetic crude from oil sands, down from a previous forecast of C$45.69. Production is forecast to rise 8.9 percent this year.
Global PlayersSuncor, which cut oil sands operating costs 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, is proceeding with its Fort Hills project, scheduled to begin production in 2017 and ramp up toward 180,000 barrels a day. This comes after Suncor said it will cut 1,000 jobs and lower its 2015 capital budget by about 13 percent.
Imperial Oil Ltd. said Feb. 2 it will examine costs and capital investments even as it plans to double output from its C$20 billion Kearl oil-sands project in Alberta and boost production from the Nabiye facility this year.
While starting an oil sands project now wouldn’t be economical, companies will push ahead with those under construction and projects already operating will continue, Jackie Forrest, vice president of Calgary-based ARC Financial Corp., said in a Jan. 29 e-mail.
New CapacityWhile it can take years for a new oil sands operation to ramp up to full production, a total of 423,000 barrels a day of new capacity is under construction and scheduled to be in operation this year, up from 116,000 barrels added last year, according to data published in Alberta’s winter 2015 Oil Sands Industry Quarterly update.
Most of the oil sands companies are “global players” and “they can afford to operate at a loss within the oil sands area,” Dinara Millington, a vice president at CERI, said by phone yesterday.
Oil sands miners would have to spend billions of dollars on reclamation of tailing ponds if they shut, she said. “It’s not as simple as turning off a truck or shutting in a well.”