Hicks on Biz: Oil patch is bouncing back BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2017
Heartening news is emerging out of the oil patch.
According to two of the best energy analysts in Alberta, Peter Tertzakian and Jackie Forrest of Calgary’s ARC Energy Research Institute, plus anecdotal evidence from those working in the oil patch, things are picking up.
Not like the halcyon days leading up to the Great Crash of 2014, mind you. But way better than 2015 and 2016, when barely an oil-patch wheel was turning and the Canadian energy industry had losses of $52 billion and $32 billion, respectively.
Right now, 200 drilling rigs are out there in Alberta — up 50 per cent from a year ago. The drilling is for higher-valued natural gas, liquids (ethane, propane, butane) and oil. Oil biz CEOs are banking on $50 US (or more) a barrel for West Texas oil — $70 Canadian — being steady for the next few years.
Improved technology has dramatically lowered drilling costs and increased production per new well. The returns have piqued investor interest. Conventional oil, gas and liquids are on the move.
That’s good news for places like Grande Prairie and Fort St. John in northeastern B.C. Exploration and production companies are hiring, not firing.
The order books for oilfield support service companies — what’s left of them in Nisku and Acheson — are again filling up. Hiring is still sparse, but improving by the week.
Not so good for Fort McMurray is the state of the oilsands.
Once the driver of the Alberta economy, investors are no longer interested in building more oilsands giants.
The good news within the bad news is that existing oilsands mines and underground extraction plants still need goods, services and labour to operate. But the big money and massive job creation came from building new oilsands plants. After Suncor’s $17-billion Fort Hills project is finished in the next few months, no other new mega-oilsands plants are on the horizon.
Energy investors are no longer interested in enormous upfront costs with a possible 50-year pay-back. They want smaller, cheaper projects without environmental hassle and faster paybacks, like a nice, new well spewing forth low-emission natural gas and liquids.
Many oilsand companies are now completing “brownfield” projects, expanding production at existing sites using less labour and more technology to bring down costs.
With the Fort Hills and the brownfield projects coming on stream, oilsand production is expected to grow by 25 per cent this year, to around three million barrels a day. But it will then dramatically flatten … unless world prices start climbing, then stay above, say, $65 US a barrel.
And what about the global future? Will our oil, gas and liquids be obsolete in a 22nd Century carbon-free world?
Tertzakian, to my mind, has the best response.
Just like oil and natural gas, he says, alternative energy systems are dramatically upping productivity and lowering costs.
“But trillions of dollars of petroleum infrastructure and the interests of combustion-based mobility,” he says, “are not going to relinquish their markets without fighting back with their own innovation. In fact, they have just begun.
“This is going to be one of the most exciting business duels in history; two giant energy systems will be competing for the hearts and wheels of the people. The technological change is breath-taking; the investment potential is staggering; and on top of it all, the business psychology is intriguing.”
Which is great from a global perspective: But in Alberta we are world experts and huge beneficiaries of that giant energy system designed for combustion-based mobility.
This is where are our jobs are. This is where our future jobs will be. Wouldn’t it be nice if our current government got off its high horse about “renewables” and, like Saskatchewan, concentrated on improving what we have?