When oil prices are high there is a rush of investment into oil based enterprises from multi-nationals to frackers. No bad thing but there is always a real danger of over investment leading to the exploitation of very marginal resources. A lower oil price will strand some of that investment and, just as importantly, postpone a great deal of it. Which frees up investment for other, potentially more useful, purposes.
The second thing which happens is that governments become addicted to the joys of relatively painless oil royalties. This looks like revenue but, because it is drawn from a diminishing resource, is actually a rather dangerous drawing down of capital. A lot of oil “revenue” is seen as general revenue and is spent on non-capital expenditures. With a booming oil sector governments are tempted to think the exaggerated revenues are available for general expenses and will continue to be. Which means that government budgets are set based on a purely extractive draw down of a province’s or nation’s capital. This is a poor idea.
Not to take anything away from the bright guys who are fracking and mining their way to oil fortunes, the reality is that extracting oil does not leave much in the way of useful, secondary industry, much less innovation. Which, in turn, means that when the oil is no longer profitable to extract there is no residual, non-oil, economy left behind. If a government spends the oil revenue as it comes in, or worse uses it to secure loans, when the oil revenue dries up there is nothing to cover the spending or the debt.
The golden lining of additional pressures on nasty states like Russia, Iran and Venezuela is likely not as significant as the prevention of malinvestment and governmental squander. In time, as various emerging economies continue to grow, demand will drive the price of oil upwards again. With luck investors and governments will not make the same mistakes twice.
(One unalloyed good arising from the collapse of the price of oil is that so called clean energy renewables like wind and solar look even sillier with their present technology. I suspect wind will always make zero economic sense; I have more hope for photo voltaic solar as new materials promise significantly higher efficiency. And those same materials in a different configuration promise radical gains in battery efficiency for that daily occurrence known as darkness. Again, a low oil price will dampen the insane over investment in these marginal technologies.)
Jay Currie, “Oil Wars”, Jay Currie, 2014-01-03
January 16, 2015
July 6, 2013
It’s a big deal. A really big deal:
A new report (The Shale Oil Boom: a US Phenomenon) by Leonardo Maugeri, of Harvard University, sets out just how astonishing this second shale revolution already is. After falling for 30 years, US oil production rocketed upwards in the past three years. In 1995 the Bakken field was reckoned by the US Geological Survey to hold a trivial 151 million barrels of recoverable oil. In 2008 this was revised upwards to nearly 4 billion barrels; two months ago that number was doubled. It is a safe bet that it will be revised upwards again.
The big reason for the upwards revisions is technology rather than discovery. Thanks to faster and cheaper drilling (which means less-rich rocks can be profitable) and things such as “zipper fracturing”, where two parallel wells are drilled and alternately fractured to help to release oil for each other, the oil recovery rate is rising from 2 per cent towards 10 per cent in places. Gas is now nearer 30 per cent. Well productivity has doubled in five years.
Now the Bakken is being eclipsed by an even more productive shale formation in southern Texas called the Eagle Ford. Texas, which already produces conventional oil, has doubled its oil production in just over two years and by the end of this year will exceed Venezuela, Kuwait, Mexico and Iraq as an oil “nation”.
[. . .]
Mr Maugeri calculates that at $85 a barrel most shale oil wells repay their capital costs in a year. He estimates that even if oil prices fall steadily to $65 in five years, shale oil production will treble in the US because of increasing productivity per well and the easing of transport bottlenecks. By 2017, he thinks, America will be producing nearly 11 billion barrels a day [correction 11 million], equal to its previous peak in 1970. It would need much less in the way of imports. US oil imports peaked at 60 per cent in 2005 and will be below 40 per cent this year.
Internationally the effect is very different for oil compared with gas. Gas is costly to export by sea, requiring liquefaction. This roughly doubles the cost of it, meaning that America’s cheap shale gas boosts its economy at home, and gives it a competitive advantage in attracting energy-intensive industries. (US gas prices are a third or a quarter of what they are here.) Mexico, too, is benefiting because of having a land border with America and pipelines.
[. . .]
There would be losers. America’s falling appetite for imports may hit Nigeria and Angola harder than the Middle East because of the types of oil they produce, while Canada and Venezuela, whose tarry oil sands are high-cost, would also suffer if oil prices fell. But every oil producer would eventually feel the effect of this falling US demand, so there is no doubting the downward pressure on world oil prices that this revolution is likely to cause.
February 18, 2013
Few energy projects have inspired the level of vitriol surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline, that would run 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada through the United States to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil sands of Alberta are estimated to hold
170 million170 billon barrels of petroleum, the largest reservoir of black gold outside of Saudi Arabia.
Because the pipeline crosses an international boundary, President Barack Obama has the final say over whether to give the project a green light.
June 4, 2012
Stephen Gordon at the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog on another deliberate attempt to cast Alberta’s oil sands boom as being only good for Alberta and bad for the rest of Canada:
This didn’t pass my sniff test:
The economic benefits of oil sands development, while considerable, are unevenly distributed across the country, making interprovincial tensions understandable. While provinces other than Alberta are projected to benefit, modelling by the Canadian Energy Research Institute projects that 94 per cent of the GDP impact of oil sands development will occur within Alberta. With so much benefit concentrated in one province, one can hardly call fast-tracking oil sands expansion a nation-building project. Little wonder that the promise of benefits from oil sands development is cold comfort for Ontarians and Quebeckers as the once-dominant manufacturing sector struggles to reinvent and revitalize itself.
Did you read “94 per cent of the GDP impact of oil sands development will occur in Alberta” and interpret it as “94 per cent of the economic benefits of oil sands development will occur in Alberta”? I’m convinced that that the vast majority of the people who read that passage on the Globe‘s op-ed page interpreted it that way. And I’m only slightly less convinced that the author meant his readers to interpret it that way. Of course, that would be the wrong interpretation.
For reasons I’ll get to later, there seems to be a concerted effort to convince Canadians that almost no-one outside Alberta is seeing any economic benefits from high oil prices. For the most part, these efforts appear to be enjoying some measure of success. But the fact of the matter is that the oil sands have increased incomes across Canada to an extent much greater than that paragraph implies.
April 16, 2012
Stephen Harper’s “world view is based on the premise that the United States is in relative decline as a superpower”
Eugene Lang has an interesting view of how Stephen Harper has changed since coming to power and how this is reflected in Canada’s foreign policies:
Stephen Harper became Prime Minister six years ago with little interest in or experience of international affairs. He was a domestic policy wonk — particularly interested in economic and fiscal affairs. Yet, in about half a decade, he has fashioned the clearest Canadian foreign policy posture in at least a generation, whether you like that posture or not. We can now speak of a Harper Doctrine which forms the cornerstone of our foreign relations.
In a largely ignored interview with Maclean’s magazine last summer, the Prime Minster stated: “We also know, though, the world is becoming more complex, and the ability of our most important allies, and most importantly the United States, to single-handedly shape outcomes and protect our interests, has been diminishing, and so I’m saying we have to be prepared to contribute more, and that is what this government’s been doing.”
These remarks are an important insight into the Prime Minister’s perception of the changes in America’s geopolitical position, and how Canada should respond. They suggest his world view is based on the premise that the United States is in relative decline as a superpower, and that Canada must step up to the plate to help our distressed ally police the world. It is a striking acknowledgement. And it was not just words.
Canada has been needing to diversify its trading relationships to reduce its dependence on, and exposure to, the vagaries of the US economy and the meddling of the US government. President Obama’s recent decision to veto the Keystone XL pipeline is merely the latest spur to get Canada to work more closely with China and other growing economies rather than be subject to presidential whim in our dealings with the US.
During his first half-decade in office Stephen Harper was putting most of Canada’s economic eggs in the American basket, as had his predecessors — from Brian Mulroney to Jean Chrétien to Paul Martin. The Prime Minister was accused of willfully ignoring unprecedented economic opportunities in China.
But that is a thing of the past. Over the last year, the Harper government has embarked on the most ambitious trade and economic diversification agenda in memory. Ottawa is now pursuing free trade agreements with India and the European Union simultaneously. The government has done a 180 on Chinese trade and investment, actively and aggressively pursing both. Canada is trying hard to become a member of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a multi-lateral free trade agreement centred in Asia. And now Canada has begun free trade negotiations with Japan, the world’s third largest economy. Little of this was on Ottawa’s radar screen 18 months ago.
It’s my opinion that the US economy is being held back at least in part because of fears of what the federal government may do — instead of smoothing the worries of business, the government is stoking them and adding to the uncertainties that make business decision-making less bold. The more regulatory changes the government makes (or even hints that it might make), the less investment will be made in areas that might be affected by those changes. The current presidential election campaign with its naked fanning of class warfare isn’t helping the situation either.
Since the global financial crisis, the evidence has mounted that the United States is in economic decline. Its system of government seems congenitally incapable of coming to grips with America’s fiscal crisis. For the first time in living memory, the U.S. recovery from recession has been weaker than Canada’s. The United States continues to have a higher unemployment rate than Canada, virtually unheard of historically. The American economy is amazingly resilient and might yet come back strong, but right now the evidence suggests a long period of relative economic stagnation south of the border. This is the most important structural change affecting Canada since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister.
February 10, 2012
Lorne Gunter: Toronto Star imagines oil just “bubbles up out of the ground and we Westerners just run out with buckets to collect it?”
Lorne Gunter in the National Post:
As I read the Toronto Star’s editorial about Statistics Canada’s recently released 2011 census population data, it was hard for me not to imagine a plump, aging diva reclining on a brocade-covered chaise wailing, “I’m still beautiful! Really, I am.”
Entitled, “Census shows a fading Ontario? Don’t count on it,” the editorial makes the argument that it is “too simplistic” to claim “Ontario’s day is over.”
No one is making the case that Ontario can be dismissed as an afterthought. That is a concern without a cause.
[. . .]
But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I, an Albertan, am pleased by Ontario’s decline, I’ll add that any trend that bodes ill for Ontario, eventually bodes ill for the country as a whole.
Canada needs a strong, prosperous, confident heartland. The West may be the new engine of the national economy, but that doesn’t mean the country can afford to have the old engine — Ontario — be idle.
The Star insults the West’s ingenuity and determination when it scoffs that “it’s relatively easy to grow based on resource extraction. Ontario does not have the luxury of sitting on gas and oil fields, so the task here is much harder.” Really? Have the paper’s editorial writers ever tried to find, extract, transport and refine oil and natural gas? Do they imagine the stuff bubbles up out of the ground and we Westerners just run out with buckets to collect it?
January 20, 2012
He pretty much blows the lid off this conspiracy to sell Canadian oil to unaware, easily duped foreigners who don’t realize how evil the conspirators are:
In hindsight, Stephen Harper’s new fight against the world’s oil sands detractors was a long time coming. Last November in Vancouver, the Prime Minister gave a local television interview in which he warned that “significant American interests” would be “trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project,” Enbridge’s proposed $3.5-billion double pipeline from near Edmonton to a new port at Kitimat, B.C.
“They’ll funnel money through environmental groups and others in order to try to slow it down,” Harper told his hosts. “But, as I say, we’ll make sure that the best interests of Canada are protected.”
In early November, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he was putting off final approval of TransCanada’s $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline until after this November’s presidential election. Harper has long viewed Obama as an unsteady ally. Now he’d had enough. “I’m sorry, the damage has been done,” he told CTV before Christmas. “And we’re going to make sure we diversify our energy exports.”
January 18, 2012
Stephen Harper “[C]ertain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park”
Investigative blogger Vivian Krause discusses American environmental groups’ interference in Canadian affairs in the Financial Post:
For five years, on my own nickel, I have been following the money and the science behind environmental campaigns and I’ve been doing what the Canada Revenue Agency hasn’t been doing: I’ve gathered information about the origin and the stated purpose of grants from U.S. foundations to green groups in Canada. My research is based on U.S. tax returns because the U.S. Internal Revenue Service requires greater disclosure from non-profits than does the CRA.
By my analysis and calculations, since 2000, U.S. foundations have granted at least US$300-million to various environmental organizations and campaigns in Canada, especially in B.C. The San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation alone has granted US$92-million. Gordon Moore is one of the co-founders of Intel Corp. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have granted a combined total of US$90-million, mostly to B.C. groups. These foundations were created by the founders of Hewlett-Packard Co.
[. . .]
The Great Bear Rainforest is a 21-million-hectare zone that extends from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the southern tip of Alaska. Environmentalists now claim that oil tanker traffic must not be allowed in the Great Bear Rainforest in order to protect the kermode bear (aka the Great Spirit Bear). Whether this was the intention all along or not, the Great Bear Rainforest has become the Great Trade Barrier against oil exports to Asia.
Speaking on CBC last night, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “But just because certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America, I don’t think that’s part of what our review process [for the Northern Gateway] is all about.”
January 14, 2012
The western world’s largest secular religion may finally be given a bit of balanced coverage — a big change from the automatic deference it has received from the media up to now:
The greatest advantage the greens have had is the relative absence of scrutiny from the press. Generally speaking, it’s thought to be bad manners to question self-appointed environmentalists. Their good cause, at least in the early days, was enough of a warrant in itself. And when it was your aunt protesting the incinerator just outside town, well that was enough. But when it’s some vast congregation of 20,000 at an international conference, or thousands lining up to present briefs protesting a pipeline, well, let’s just say this is not your aunt’s protest movement anymore.
There is no such thing as investigative environmental reporting — or rather very precious little of it in the established media. Environmental reporters rarely question the big environmental outfits with anything like the fury they will bring to questioning politicians or businesspeople. Advocacy and reportage are sometimes close as twins.
And so the great thing I see about Resource Minister Joe Oliver’s little rant against Northern Gateway pipeline opponents a few days ago — asking whether some groups are receiving “outside money” or if they are proxies for other interests — is not so much the rant itself, but rather the fact that at last some scrutiny, some questions are being asked of these major players. Big environment, however feebly, is being asked to present its bona fides. And that’s a good thing: The same rigor we bring to industry and government, in looking to their motives, their swift dealing, must also apply to crusading greens.
Where does their money come from? What are their interests in such and such a hearing? What other associations do they have? Are they a cat’s paw for other interests? Do they have political affiliations that would impugn their testimony? In hearings as important as the ones over the Northern Gateway pipeline, with the jobs and industry that are potentially at stake, the call to monitor who is participating in those hearings is a sound and rational one.
In a media environment where anyone who questions the green orthodoxy is accused of being in the pay of “Big Oil”, it’s refreshing to have at least a bit of the same medicine being forced on the other side of the debate.
December 19, 2011
November 6, 2011
Terence Corcoran pours cold water on the notion that this is the moment for Canada to become a major player in the world energy markets:
In recent weeks, Canada — a self-proclaimed global energy superpower — has been trying to throw its weight around over the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada Corp.’s $7-billion project to ship oil sands production from Alberta to Texas. In Houston on Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver let the Americans know that Canada had other options. “What will happen if there wasn’t approval [of Keystone] — and we think there will be — is that we’ll simply have to intensify our efforts to sell the oil elsewhere.”
Canadian oil executives, who have a lot invested in the superpower notion, are also issuing aggressive-sounding statements aimed at the United States. A headline in The Globe and Mail Friday sounded like a threat: “Oil patch to U.S.: OK pipe or lose our oil.” The story didn’t quite back up the headline, but the sense was that Canada was developing alternatives and that China is the big alternative.
[. . .]
While Canadian government and industry officials have a lot invested in the idea of energy superpowerdom, few outside observers share the vision. Canada barely rates a mention in The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World, Daniel Yergin’s new book on the world energy market. A few pages are devoted to the oil sands, mostly to review the high costs and technical difficulties. “As the industry grows in scale, it will require wider collaboration on the R&D challenges, not only among oil companies and the province of Alberta, but also with Canada’s federal government.”
Far more impressive for the world’s energy future will be the impact of shale gas and shale oil. The “shale gale,” as Mr. Yergin calls it, has already transformed the U.S. gas market and shale oil could be next. Since Mr. Yergin’s book was written, the shale revolution has swept Europe and is about to transform China’s energy market.
October 28, 2011
Peter Foster reviews the Atlas Shrugged movie:
The movie is set in today’s not-too-distant future, but has kept Dagny in railroads and Hank in metals by positing a massive oil crisis due to the implosion of the Middle East. The Dow at 4,000 we can believe, but oil at $37.50 a gallon? At that price, a Chevy Volt might actually not be such a bad deal. Domestic oil is once again king (despite being utterly unaffordable) but is being carried by train. Whatever happened to pipelines?
None of this makes much sense. Perhaps the plot should have been left as a future-of-the-past, like, say, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, or it should have been thoroughly reformulated to reflect statism’s new threats. How’s this for a rewrite? Dagny now runs a pipeline company trying to build a huge new system for a form of oil previously uneconomic but now made available by wonderful advances in capitalist technology. Let’s say this oil is located in Alberta and her line is to go to the U.S. refineries of the Gulf Coast, to replace imports from dictatorships.
Hank is still in the steel industry but his new wonder metal is now to be used to build a cheaper, stronger and safer type of pipe. However, he is opposed not by other steel or pipe makers, but by a pack of meretricious, politically-savvy environmental NGOs. These organizations are fronted by naive chanting muddle heads, who have no idea where their rich lifestyles originate, and backed by capitalist foundations (the irony!) that have been hijacked by socialists, and by CEOs either too cowardly or stupid to say no (or by those who seek to take advantage of government handouts to produce throwback technologies). These NGOs claim that the oil is “dirty” and destroying the climate and that Hank Rearden’s new and better steel in unsafe, and threatens aquifers and environmentally sensitive areas. Their hysterical claims are eagerly swallowed by a gullible liberal media. Meanwhile politicians, despite high unemployment, are prepared to sacrifice tens of thousands of jobs because they, too, are cowed by the ENGOs, and in any case attracted by the unparalleled power prospects of aspiring to control the weather.
I know this is all a bit far fetched, but we are talking a movie plot here.
July 13, 2011
I guess all the popular targets have already been hit, so the rumour is that Anonymous is going to be going after companies working in the oilsands:
In related news, Anonymous said it planned to attack oil firms and banks supporting the controversial extraction of oil from sand in Alberta, Canada. Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Canadian Oil Sands, Imperial Oil, and the Royal Bank of Scotland have been put on notice that they are likely to be targeted in Anonymous’ latest operation, dubbed Project Tarmageddon.
Anonymous began with attacks on the Church of Scientology in early 2008 before it made headline news last year with attacks on financial service firms that blocked donation to WikiLeaks following the release of controversial US diplomatic cables. Another long-running campaign has targeted entertainment industry firms that hassled file sharers or console modders, most notably Sony.
August 31, 2010
Ezra Levant isn’t amused by some US businesses trying to make political statements by slagging Alberta’s oilsands while being less than clean themselves:
Walgreens is the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S.
It’s also corrupt.
For years, they secretly altered their customers’ prescriptions, without their doctor’s knowledge, in a giant insurance scam across 42 states. They targeted Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans. So they were stealing from taxpayers and the poor at the same time. That kind of big thinking is why Walgreens is number one.
Walgreens replaced inexpensive drugs with drugs that were up to four times more costly. Only when an honest pharmacist finally blew the whistle on them were they stopped — and fined a whopping $35 million.
Are you ready to take moral lessons from Walgreens? Because they’ve just announced that they’re switching their trucks to fuel that doesn’t come from Canada’s oilsands — as an ethical statement.
Taking ethical guidance from Walgreens is sort of like taking abstinence lessons from Hugh Hefner.
I’d call for a boycott of Walgreens, but they don’t have any stores in Canada (and, despite their name, they are no relation to Walmart).
But Walgreens isn’t the only moral hypocrite to come out against Canada. So did The Gap, which also owns Banana Republic and Old Navy.
Do yourself a favour: Don’t buy their clothes.
December 1, 2009
I never knew Harper had it in him:
This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.
So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.
Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.
That’s George Monbiot, known to his enemies as “The Great Moonbat”, stumping for wavering Tory voters to rally to Harper’s side. I realize he doesn’t intend it to be read that way, but for Alberta, the tar sand project is their biggest economic project for this century, and any criticism is taken as an attack on their economic future.