Posts from Martin King

Since the start of this year, Canadian heavy crude oil prices have been steadily improving relative to the light crude oil benchmark of West Texas Intermediate (WTI). Improved access to and through the U.S. as far south as the Gulf Coast has contributed to these better conditions. At the same time, the traditional driver of increasing refinery demand after the end of the most recent maintenance season is being aided by the restart of two Midwest refineries that have typically been consumers of Canadian heavy oil. With international competitive pressures also easing and export buyers remaining active in the Gulf Coast, heavy oil prices could remain in a sweet spot for a good portion of this year. In today’s RBN blog, we look at why international competition for Canadian heavy crude will only intensify next year as vastly increased export access from Canada’s West Coast becomes available.

In the past, Canadian heavy oil was all too often the sick man of the North American oil market. Plagued by a limited number of refinery outlets and numerous episodes of insufficient pipeline export capacity from Western Canada, it was often subject to far larger price discounts versus the light crude oil price benchmark of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) than was justified by quality and pipeline transportation costs alone. In the past few years, however, improved pipeline export capacity to and through the U.S. has expanded the number of refineries Canadian heavy oil can reach, and the expansion of crude oil export terminals along the Gulf Coast has resulted in greatly improved exposure for Canadian barrels to buyers in international markets. The end result has been a closer alignment of Canadian heavy oil pricing in its home base of Alberta with those in the Midwest and Gulf Coast.

Though much smaller in scope than the oil-and-gas producing behemoth of Western Canada, oil production from the offshore of Canada’s easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador already has decades of experience behind it. With five offshore fields producing a little under 230 Mb/d as of early 2023, the region’s slow decline is likely to continue unless existing fields undertake additional development work or new fields are discovered. Building on the province’s commitment to double output by the end of this decade, it has worked with various offshore operators to enhance its royalty regime for two existing sites that will generate increased production in the next few years. In addition, one major discovery has the real potential to meet the pledge of doubling output by the early 2030s. In today’s RBN blog we consider the history of the region’s offshore oil production and future plans to increase output.

The buzz and activity around renewable diesel (RD), a chemically identical “drop-in” replacement for traditional petroleum-based diesel, continues to grow. The goals with RD, which is produced from renewable feedstocks, are to reduce the need for petroleum and to lower life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — critical steps in meeting climate agendas in many countries. Canada recently enacted legislation designed to promote the domestic production of RD as part of a broader emissions-reduction strategy. In today’s RBN blog, we take a tour of the newly emerging RD production sector in Canada and examine whether it could one day replace imports from the U.S.

Natural gas production in Western Canada has been enjoying a steady revival in recent years, heavily assisted by enormous growth in the unconventional Montney gas formation. A sizable portion of this formation lies in the westernmost province of British Columbia, but also underlies a large contiguous land area in that province which has been the subject of land access and development issues with the province’s First Nations residents. As a result of a legal decision made in June 2021, future natural gas production growth was thrown into question as new well licenses, crucial for future gas well development, were placed on hold until a new agreement could be reached. In the nick of time, a new agreement was announced last month. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the implications on future natural gas drilling and production.

For the past several years, Western Canada’s natural gas producers have been forced to sit on the sidelines of too many broader price rallies as their main benchmark, AECO, languished at painfully low levels. Though an increasing number of producers have been steadily diversifying their price exposure away from Western Canada and AECO, even greater pricing upside might be captured if marketing arrangements could be developed to access higher international LNG prices via U.S. Gulf Coast terminals. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the steps that two of Canada’s largest natural gas producers have taken to capture that LNG price upside.

In a part of the world where enduring a cold winter is often seen as a badge of honor, the latest cold blast that descended on Canada just before Christmas — and during Christmas in the U.S. — was another one for the natural gas record books. By almost every measure, the recent frigid temperatures, though not long-lasting, set new Canadian records for daily demand, storage withdrawals, and net exports to the U.S., and went well beyond the records set during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. In today’s RBN blog, we delve into the latest record-busting Canadian gas data.

Shipping Alberta’s fast-rising bitumen production to market through pipelines or on insulated rail cars depends on sufficient supplies of diluent, a variety of light hydrocarbons that, when blended with molasses-like bitumen, reduce the viscosity of the resulting mix. The problem is, in-region production of diluent — an economically favorable alternative to pipeline imports from the U.S. — has been growing more slowly than it was a few years ago, and increased demand for imported condensate could result in those pipelines being maxed out. In today’s RBN blog, we delve into what may be behind the slowing pace of Western Canadian diluent production and what the implications might be.

Despite many challenges, natural gas production in Western Canada has been hitting record highs this year, powered by what seems to be the inexhaustible energy of the unconventional Montney formation. This immense resource remains the primary focus of most Canadian gas producers, and those that operate in the British Columbia portion of the Montney know they have their work cut out for them in the next few years if they are to meet the growing need for gas, especially when the LNG Canada export terminal comes online mid-decade. In today’s RBN blog, we update the Montney’s production and productivity trends in British Columbia and evaluate whether enough progress is being made.

Despite global energy insecurities, many countries continue to push forward with efforts to incentivize an energy transition and fulfill emission-reduction targets. Canada has been no exception, with its federal government earlier this year introducing detailed climate goals for each of its major economic sectors, with particular emphasis placed on oil and gas, the country’s largest emitter. With the aim of a 42% emissions reduction for this sector by 2030 versus 2019 levels, Canada has set a target that may well be beyond reach, raising the possibility that production cutbacks later this decade will be the only alternative. In today’s RBN blog, we examine this potentially disruptive prospect.

Capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial and oil and gas activities is already a big challenge but having a safe, permanent place to store them is vital if the goal is to meet or exceed emission-reduction targets. To this end, Alberta, home to most of Canada’s oil and gas industry, including the vast oil sands, is steadily advancing plans to develop carbon sequestration hubs and underground reservoirs across the province in parallel with above-ground CO2 capture plants and pipelines. In separate announcements this year, the province gave the go ahead to 25 projects to develop sequestration hubs and determine if they can achieve commercial viability. In today’s blog, we consider Alberta’s latest efforts to push forward with its emissions capture and storage plans.

Lithium is in high demand worldwide for the production of rechargeable batteries used in the rapidly expanding electric vehicle (EV) and utility-scale energy storage markets, as well as a plethora of everyday mobile devices. The problem is, there are relatively few places on the planet that offer rock formations or naturally occurring underground brine reservoirs conducive to the economic production of lithium — and even there the concentrations of lithium in the rock and brine are measured in parts per million. Now, a handful of companies in Alberta and elsewhere are exploring the potential for “direct lithium extraction” from oil and gas well brine, an alternative technique that some view as a potential breakthrough. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the promise — and potential pitfalls — of lithium production from oil and gas brine.

There finally seems to be some momentum building for additional LNG export projects on Canada’s West Coast. Major pipeline and midstream operator Enbridge announced in late July that it was making an investment in Woodfibre LNG, a smaller-scale export project that has already come a long way in terms of approvals, pipeline connections, locking up gas supplies, and initial financing. With the Enbridge announcement — and the financial and technical clout the company brings to the table — it is now looking assured that the project will commence construction next year and be exporting LNG by 2027. In today’s blog, we take a detailed look at Woodfibre LNG.

Western Canada’s heavy oil producers have become all too familiar with fluctuating and often very wide price discounts for their product. Too often, the culprits have been insufficient pipeline export capacity and/or rapidly rising production. It might be easy to quickly dismiss the latest widening of the heavy oil price discount as being related to these well-known factors, but it turns out that other more international trends are at work, ranging from U.S. government-backed competition in the Gulf Coast to heavy discounting of competing barrels in other far-flung regions of the world. In today’s RBN blog, we look beyond the borders of Canada for an explanation of the latest pressures driving wider Canadian heavy oil price discounts.

We’ve seen this movie one too many times. Just when natural gas prices are rallying across the world to multi-year or historic highs, another monkey wrench gets thrown into the workings of the Western Canadian gas market, imploding its suite of price markers. Last week, gas prices in Western Canada collapsed to mere pennies and even went negative for a time due to an unfortunate combination of pipeline restrictions and record-high production — a situation that will cost the region’s gas industry billions if left unchecked. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the root cause of the latest price collapse and when a turnaround might be expected.