Author Archives: prosperitysaskatchewan

Even if oil prices rise, Canadian oilfield services must drill deeper for margins

Yager: Even if oil prices rise, Canadian oilfield services must drill deeper for margins

By David Yager

Sept. 23, 2016, 1:46 p.m.


When it comes to oilfield services (OFS), it’s not unreasonable to say Dave Lesar, the chief executive officer of the world’s second-largest operator, speaks for everyone.

While there are obvious advantages to being huge, Halliburton can’t charge higher prices than its competitors regardless of where it operates.

In an August 18 Bloomberg News article, Lesar says, “Some of the efficiency gains we have made with customers are in fact sustainable and will continue, but others, including deep uneconomic pricing cuts, are unsustainable and will have to be reversed.”

Unsustainable describes the Canadian OFS industry as it enters the fourth quarter of 2016. Certainly, there’s a bit more business out there, but at 150 active rigs on August 18, it’s the worst market for this month anyone can remember. The last time it was this bad was so long ago it’s irrelevant.

There have been several responses. Some companies are gone, either voluntarily or with the help of their banker. Some are going, technically underwater because of too much debt but still answering the phone because they have persuaded lenders they are worth more alive than dead.

The rest have figured out how to sort of match revenue with cash costs and hold their own with whatever business comes in the door. Few are excited about going to work.

In the challenged, but ultimately symbiotic, relationship between OFS and its exploration and production (E&P) clients, how does the future look? Without a significant increase spike in commodity prices, how are E&P companies going to replace reserves to stay in business while paying OFS more so it can remain solvent for the next year? And the year after that?

The Bloomberg article quoted several E&P companies that, of course, claim much of the credit for reduced costs. BP, for example, brags about a deep drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico originally budgeted for US$20 billion that came it at US$9 billion. While obviously reduced input costs helped, BP took credit for simplifying the project’s scope. As they released second-quarter financials, Bloomberg reported U.S. shale drillers claim half their cost reductions are permanent improvements in efficiency. Apache’s chief financial officer, Stephen Riney, said, “A lot of the actions that we’ve taken are what we call self-help type of things, changing the way we work. These are things that are not dependent upon the pricing from third parties.”

Finally. It’s always refreshing to learn more E&P companies are understanding how much their own operating practices escalate their total costs. But financial challenges for OFS remain. It is impossible for service and supply to be profitable when its clients are not. Low prices have capped development costs. OFS claims it has cut prices to the bone and perhaps even deeper. But E&Ps that keep producing must replace reserves or the company will disappear. When E&P goes broke so does OFS. Then what?

Out of necessity, OFS has slashed every possible imaginable expense except structural corporate sales, general and administrative costs. The extended, and nearly uninterrupted, growth cycle from 2000 to 2014 allowed the formation of hundreds of new and smaller players. As larger companies continually consolidated OFS through buying competitors to make it more efficient, many of the former owners were back in the game the day their non-competes expired, adding more capacity and players.

But OFS must also remember the marketplace is elastic. Cut costs and E&Ps will drill more wells. Getting a better margin for ongoing work while expanding the market under fixed commodity prices remains a monumental challenge.

While many of the smaller OFS players may quite rightly brag about offering better service, most cannot touch the big dogs when it comes to financial management and investment discipline. They employ systems and people to count the pennies on every job while ensuring each new capital asset will yield a double-digit after-tax rate of return. But tragically, even some of the fast-growing larger outfits of the post-2009 recession era weren’t good at this either.

Nobody ever published a Harvard Business School case study highlighting the remarkable financial efficiency of the oil service industry or its E&P customers. Too fat for too long. OFS has proven it can cut costs but can it reinvent itself? However awful, OFS must manufacture a positive operating margin with whatever business is available. This will require consolidation, financial management and finally understanding their client’s objectives and become a partner, not just a vendor. There’s no other way.

Anti-pipeline accord could deepen divide in indigenous communities

Anti-pipeline accord could deepen divide in indigenous communities


CALGARY and OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Sep. 23, 2016 4:39PM EDT

Last updated Friday, Sep. 23, 2016 5:03PM EDT


As a coalition of First Nations ramps up its opposition to new pipeline and tanker projects, some aboriginal leaders are cautioning against the group’s blanket condemnation of the oil sands issued this week, saying the industry is funding important programs in their communities.

Opposition from some First Nations to individual pipeline projects is long-standing. But on Thursday, 50 indigenous communities in Canada, plus some U.S. tribes, unveiled an accord that commits them to stand together against the building of any new pipelines and rail projects, or increased tanker traffic, that would facilitate the expansion of oil sands production. They say they are concerned about the risk of spills and climate change.

As of Friday, the coalition’s ranks had grown to 85 First Nation signatories.

The move may amplify a growing divide in Canada’s indigenous communities. Not every First Nation leader is against new pipeline projects – especially in Alberta, Saskatchewan and northeastern British Colombia, where many aboriginal leaders have a stake in the oil and gas industry.

Next month in Calgary, an advocacy group for those First Nation communities will host a Pipeline Gridlock Conference to discuss aboriginal issues around pipelines, and ways to build new projects with indigenous interests front and centre.

Stephen Buffalo, president and chief executive officer of the Indian Resource Council, said the coalition voices legitimate concerns, but every industry has an environmental cost and it’s unfair to target oil alone. He said many energy-dependent aboriginal communities have already taken a hit because of two years of low crude prices

“From a First Nations standpoint, we’re really trying to not be poor,” said Mr. Buffalo, who hails from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta.

“Oil and gas, and energy, is one way to advance, and build our communities, and build houses and rec centres and hockey rinks.”

Chief Wallace Fox said his oil-rich Onion Lake Cree Nation – which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary north of Lloydminster – shares all First Nations’ concerns about the land and water. But he said the community’s heavy oil resource has led to jobs and revenues for housing and education programs, such as a Cree language immersion program.

“If we didn’t have that, we would be in the same situation – for example – as those who face a big housing crisis across Canada. We use our own money, our own source funding, to try to meet the needs of First Nations,” Mr. Fox said.

“The reality is we still need this product to get from point A to point B,” he said of pipelines.

The federal government will decide before Christmas whether to approve Kinder Morgan Inc.’s proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver. The project has attracted the ire of Lower Mainland municipal leaders. The most vocal First Nations opposition to that project has come from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation – a key member of the coalition – which is based on Burrard Inlet near the export terminal.

At the same time, Trans Mountain said it now has more than 40 letters of support from aboriginal communities and associations in Alberta and British Columbia. As of mid-September, the company had signed 18 benefits agreements with 22 aboriginal communities along 95 per cent of the pipeline corridor, a company spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

In a letter submitted to the National Energy Board last December, Chief Clifford Calliou of the Kelly Lake Cree Nation said some of the project would occur within its traditional territory in northeastern B.C., and that it is “satisfied with the mitigation measures” promised by Trans Mountain.

“The Kelly Lake Cree Nation is of the view that there will be positive effects as a result of the project,” Mr. Calliou said in the letter.

Enbridge Inc.-led Northern Gateway ran into a wall of First Nations opposition on the British Columbia coast, but the company claimed it had significant support among aboriginal communities in Alberta and along the pipeline route. It says there are 31 aboriginal communities that are part of its ownership groups, though some that initially expressed support have revisited that decision amid internal battles.

In Edmonton, the NDP government is in a battle to show that its ambitious climate-change plan and other measures will help the province build the cross-country goodwill to build at least one new pipeline to allow for growth in crude exports and to carry Alberta oil to new, international markets. The government, elected in 2015, argues that Alberta is now on the forefront in the battle to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gases – but previous years of inaction are sticking to the province’s reputation.

“I get why they’re in a position where they need to say no – no matter what,” said Alberta Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, speaking about the First Nations coalition against pipelines.

“It’s them having an opportunity to express their frustration with what’s happened in the past,” Ms. Hoffman said.

“I want to honour what they’re saying, but also acknowledge that there are other First Nations who know how important it is to safely get our product to tidewater.


Saskatchewan set to increase deposit fees for oil well cleanup

  • 23 Sep 2016
  • The StarPhoenix
  • The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan set to increase deposit fees for oil well cleanup

Companies buying energy assets in Saskatchewan are facing higher deposit costs for environmental remediation after a precedent-setting court case in Alberta that dealt with abandoned oil and gas wells.

In a letter sent last month to operators of wells, pipelines and other energy assets in Saskatchewan, the provincial Ministry of Economy (ECON) warns that all applications to transfer government licences for wells as part of sales transactions will be treated as “non-routine” from now on.

“All licence transfer applications will be reviewed in detail and ECON will consider all relevant factors in calculating transfer deposit requirements,” it says. “In addition to increased deposit requirements, ECON may incorporate additional conditions with licence transfer approvals which may impact the decision to proceed with certain transactions.

“In particular, licence transfers involving a high percentage of potentially uneconomic infrastructure will be very closely reviewed and deposit requirements set accordingly.”

Regulators in Western Canada are watching closely after a ruling from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in May granted the receiver for bankrupt producer Redwater Energy the right to sell the private company’s best assets and disclaim or abandon inactive assets for which estimated environmental cleanup costs were higher than resale value. An appeal of the decision is to be heard in October.




Uranium prices remain low

No end to uranium price plunge

Frik Els

September 23, 2016


While thermal coal has embarked on an astounding surge, natural gas has recovered and oil has rallied more than 70% from 13-year low struck in January, uranium is languishing at decade lows.

U3O8 is down nearly 30% in 2016 with the UxC broker average price sliding to $24.40 a pound on Thursday. Current levels are the cheapest spot uranium has been since April 2005. The long term price, where most uranium business is conducted, has fallen to unprecedented levels below $40 a pound.

Uranium’s weakness persists despite strong fundamentals with only reactors already being built – mostly in China – expected to increase the global need for uranium by a fifth from today’s levels.

Last week’s go-ahead for a $24 billion nuclear power station at Hinkley Point –  Europe’s biggest energy project and the UK’s first nuclear project in a generation – should also go a long way in restoring confidence in the market.

But in the short term there seems no relief in sight for the battered industry.

“We expected Japan to move more quickly with restarting their reactors but it didn’t happen. Material that would have been delivered to Japan is now coming onto the market and keeping the price down”

Jonathan Hinze, executive vice president at UxC, quoted by Bloomberg paints a picture of the spot price environment where there is simply too much material available to utilities and little prospect of demand improvement, at least in the short term:

“Some producers and other sellers need to move material for cash flow purposes, and thus, we have seen some pretty aggressive selling in the past few weeks. These market conditions are unlikely to change in the near future.”

In an interview with MINEX Asia in June, Tim Gitzel, President and CEO of Cameco, the world’s number one listed uranium producer representing nearly a fifth of global production summed upped the depressing environment for uranium this way:

“We haven’t seen prices this low for many years. There’s not very much activity on the market, small amounts of material, often changing hands among traders. There is a sense among utilities that there is a lot of uranium around and so there is no urgency to be buying. Utilities are well covered for the next few years so the prices are staying low for now. We expected Japan to move more quickly with restarting their reactors but it didn’t happen. Material that would have been delivered to Japan is now coming onto the market and keeping the price down.”


Rig activity down in Saskatchewan

Rig activity picks up in Alberta

By Stephen Marsters

Sept. 23, 2016, 7:35 a.m.

The active rig count in Western Canada stood at 146 on Thursday afternoon, level with the 145 rigs at work at the close of last week, according to Rig Locator data.

Over the past seven days, there has been an increase in the activity rate in Alberta and a decrease in Saskatchewan.

Overall, across the basin, 22 per cent of the fleet was active on Thursday afternoon.

For the same week a year ago, 25 per cent of the rigs were active in Western Canada, with 190 rigs at work out of a fleet of 760 rigs.

Crescent Point Energy Corp. is currently the most active driller across the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin.

The producer had 18 active rigs on Thursday afternoon, followed by Tourmaline Oil Corp. with 11 active rigs.

Active rigs on the Rig Locator website are defined as rigs that are drilling, rigging up or moving. (Note: This data differs from the rig counts tracked by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, which bases its utilization rates on whether rigs are drilling, which it defines as spud to rig release, or down.)


Mining forum aims to boost number of women in industry

  • 22 Sep 2016
  • The StarPhoenix

Mining forum aims to boost number of women in industry

About a quarter of the people who work in Saskatchewan’s mining sector are women — more than double the national average, but not good enough, according to the organizers of a conference aimed at attracting more women to the industry.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Anne Gent, a senior environmental scientist with Cameco Corp., and the co-chair of Women in Mining and Women in Nuclear Saskatchewan (WIM/ WiN-SK), which puts on the Mine Your Potential conference.

Founded four years ago, the one-day conference at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre is patterned on a similar event in Alberta intended to strengthen connections between women who work in mining and attract more women to the sector.

Gent, who left an environmental consulting firm to join Cameco about nine years ago and has cochaired WIM/WiN-SK for several years, said Mine Your Potential is also intended to address misconceptions about the province’s mining sector.

“I think a lot of people still have that archaic view of mining or they have a very fearful view of nuclear, and so we really want to say, ‘No, this is modern industry with excellent safety and environmental controls, so it’s an industry that you should consider.’ ”

In addition to keynote speaker C.D. (’Lyn) Anglin, chief scientific officer of Imperial Metals Corp., which operates mines in British Columbia and Nevada, Friday’s event will feature industry veterans, scientists and media.

Saskatoon-based speakers include Neil Alexander, executive director of the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, and Amec Foster Wheeler’s director of metallurgy, Chuck Edwards.

The province’s mining sector faces serious problems. Weak commodity prices have eaten into government revenues and forced companies to slash production, lay off staff and even shutter mines.

Gent said that although the conference organizers and sponsors are acutely aware of the industry’s struggles, everyone involved believes Mine Your Potential’s cause is worthwhile and that the conference is an opportunity for the sector.

“There’s a variety in our industry,” she said. “Your career doesn’t have to be a sole path.

“There’s lots out there, and the more you network and the more you talk to people in your industry, the more opportunities that are going to present themselves to you.”




‘Megatrends’ will drive world demand for oil



  • 22 Sep 2016
  • The StarPhoenix
  • Financial Post

‘Megatrends’ will drive world demand for oil: Imperial chief

CALGARY Even with the increase in renewable energy sources and the advent of electric cars, global demand for oil and gas is expected to grow for the next 25 years, says the head of one of Canada’s largest energy companies.

“What we see are global megatrends that will continue to drive the world demand for energy,” Rich Kruger, president and CEO of Imperial Oil Ltd., told investors on Wednesday.

He said he expected energy use — including from fossil fuels — would rise by 25 per cent between now and 2040 as more of the world develops. At present, he noted, one in six people do not have access to electricity.

Kruger said that a mix of energy would be needed to meet those energy requirements including oil, natural gas and renewables. “Gas will be the fastest growing major energy source,” he said during Imperial’s investor day in Toronto.

Imperial also expects that 90 per cent of the world’s transportation fuels will come from oil in 2040, which is down slightly from 95 per cent today.

Despite the continued increase in the demand for oil in the future, Imperial Oil is planning to reduce its capital spending for each of the next four years to about $1.5 billion — down from an average of $5 billion per year between 2010 and 2015.

FirstEnergy Capital Corp. analyst Michael Dunn said in a research note the market would respond positively to Imperial’s planned capital expenditure reduction. Imperial announced Wednesday it could now sustain its operations with $900 million per year, compared with last year’s estimates of $1.2 billion.

Dunn said he now expects Imperial’s capital expenditure budget will be in the range of $1 billion to $1.2 billion next year.

A report Wednesday from credit ratings agency DBRS Ltd. noted that oil and gas producers have lowered their costs by 20 per cent to 30 per cent and the financial stress on some of those firms is easing as oil prices are expected to improve next year.

“We have a better outlook for oil pricing, the whole forward curve has improved,” DBRS senior vicepresident Victor Vallance said.

“We think the probability of oil averaging above US$50 per barrel next year is higher than it was several months ago,” Vallance said. The DBRS report predicts the oil market will rebalance in the last three months of 2017.

The firm plans to review its credit ratings on a number of oilsands producers given the moderately improved outlook in the oil and gas industry. It had downgraded ratings on oilsands producers Cenovus Energy Inc. and ConocoPhillips the last time it conducted a review, when its energy outlook was considerably less optimistic.

Meanwhile, a survey of 251 people employed in the oil and gas industry showed increased optimism in the sector in the next two years.

The survey by Deloitte said that 33 per cent of respondents believed oil prices will begin to recover in 2017 and 29 per cent believed a price rebound will begin in 2018.

“Companies are generally optimistic that prices will rise to a more sustainable level next year; however, they understand that even if we see an uptick in price, the industry likely won’t fully recover until 2018 or beyond,” Deloitte vice-chairman and U.S. and Americas oil and gas leader John England said in a release.

In Imperial’s case, the company’s budget assumptions for the next four years implies limited spending of $600 million per year if it decides to sanction new oilsands projects. It currently has two such projects — Aspen and Cold Lake Expansion projects in northern Alberta — awaiting regulatory approvals.

Asked what oil price Imperial would need to sanction those projects, Kruger said, “We’re looking for double-digit returns in a $50 per barrel world or higher and we’re looking at that as the entry point to be considered competitive.”


Northern Gateway process unclear, more consultation seen after ruling



  • 21 Sep 2016
  • Calgary Herald

Pipeline facing ‘uncharted’ path

Northern Gateway process unclear, more consultation seen after ruling

The regulatory process governing the fate of the Northern Gateway pipeline is moving into unknown territory, legal experts said Tuesday, after Enbridge Inc. and Ottawa accepted that there had been a lack of consultation with aboriginal groups during the original review.

John Carruthers, president of Enbridge unit Northern Gateway, and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr both said Tuesday they would not appeal a court decision issued this summer that overturned approvals for the $7.9-billion pipeline project.

The Federal Court of Appeal denied the approvals for the pipeline, which would carry oilsands crude from Alberta across northern British Columbia to the West Coast, over a lack of meaningful consultation by Ottawa with aboriginal groups.

A spokesperson for Carr said in an email the government is considering its next steps, but Carruthers said he expects that Ottawa will undertake more consultations “because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Our belief is that the government should enter into that collaborative consultation process,” Carruthers said, adding that consultation rather than more litigation is “the best path forward.”

Legal experts and pipeline industry veterans say there is no defined process for the pipeline project from this point forward.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Vancouver-based energy lawyer Warren Brazier said.

In the short term, the federal government has a duty to consult with affected aboriginal groups along the pipeline route to correct the lack of consultation in the original process overseen by the National Energy Board.

While the additional consultations are expected to last four months, Carruthers said the government is not bound by specific deadlines or a timeline as it consults with aboriginal groups.

Once those consultations wrap up, however, Brazier said it’s unclear what will happen next or how the regulatory process will unfold or to what extent the NEB — which itself is undergoing changes as Ottawa revamps its processes — will be involved in issuing final reports on the project.

One pipeline industry veteran who asked not to be named said the regulatory process is in flux and predicting a timeline or series of events for Northern Gateway is like “trying to connect invisible dots.”

Carruthers said he believes the government has two options at the end of the additional consultation. It could either simply reject the project, or refer it back to the NEB, which could impose additional conditions on Northern Gateway.

The NEB originally recommended the federal government approve the project in 2014 — subject to 209 conditions. But court challenges have prevented Enbridge from sanctioning Northern Gateway and construction work has yet to begin.

Carruthers said there is no timeline for when the project could be in service because, in part, “there is too much uncertainty.” He said, for example, it’s unclear whether the federal government will ask the NEB to impose additional conditions on the project and it’s unclear how many new conditions there might be.

He said Northern Gateway continues to consult with aboriginal communities along the route and would help Ottawa in its consultations as required.

The federal government has not indicated whether it will conduct more consultations, but the aboriginal groups that do support the pipeline project demanded Ottawa undertake that process.

“The federal government has publicly stated they are committed to reconciliation with First Nation and Metis communities,” a group of First Nations and Metis equity partners in the pipeline said in a release.

“As such, we are now calling on this same government to actively and fully undertake the required consultation as directed by the Federal Court of Appeal in relation to the Northern Gateway project,” they said.


Quebec to hold its own Energy East review

  • 21 Sep 2016
  • Calgary Herald
  • Bloomberg

Quebec to hold its own Energy East review

Concerns over local drinking water ‘not political,’ says Premier Couillard

TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Energy East pipeline poses significant risks to Quebec’s freshwater resources, and concerns about the impacts of an oil spill should be weighed carefully, said Premier Philippe Couillard.

The oil line, which has faced opposition from groups as diverse as an association of Montreal-area mayors to the province’s farmers, is being proposed to ship 1.1 million barrels a day of Western Canadian crude, including from Alberta’s oilsands, to the Atlantic Coast.

An offshoot of the pipeline would reach Montreal’s east end, which is not a “recipe for an easy discussion,” especially since the line avoids Toronto, Couillard said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York Monday. “These concerns are legitimate. It’s not a popular or political expression of negativity towards the West; it’s just normal concerns by citizens over their freshwater reserves.”

TransCanada’s $15.7 billion Energy East pipeline faces an uncertain future after National Energy Board reviewers assessing the project stepped down earlier this month amid allegations that the regulatory process was tarnished, and after violent protests forced a halt to hearings.

The provincial government will soon begin its own environmental review of Energy East, Couillard said. “We do realize that resources have to gain access to markets, but this being said, we will not compromise our people’s security and safety as far as water is concerned.”

TransCanada takes Quebec’s concerns very seriously, said Tim Duboyce, a Montreal-based spokesman for the company.

Quebec’s environmental review will give TransCanada “an opportunity to continue to answer questions about the project, including safety measures and mitigation measures,” Duboyce said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

“It’s very clear that the government and the people have concerns about sources of drinking water. That’s totally natural and we share that. That’s why we put the measures that we do in place to ensure the safe functioning of the pipeline.”




Policy brief appears to back Wall’s carbon stance

  • 21 Sep 2016
  • The StarPhoenix

Policy brief appears to back Wall’s carbon stance

A recently released policy brief by the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy appears to support Premier Brad Wall’s contention that any carbon pricing scheme — whether it’s a carbon tax, cap and trade or stricter emissions regulations — is likely to cause economic hardship to the province.

“Carbon tax, cap and trade or implicit carbon pricing operating alone are likely to be insufficient to meet Paris Agreement carbon levels because they each have their faults,’’ said the brief written by Peter Phillips and Victoria Taras of the JSGS at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“When two or all three are used to together, along with perhaps other carbon management options, there is great potential for mitigating carbon emissions. However, it risks destabilizing mining, which is one of Saskatchewan and Canada’s most competitive and important revenuegenerating industries,” the brief said.

The study concludes that a “partnership between Canada’s federal and provincial jurisdictions, that includes consultations with the minerals and mining sector, offers real hope for discussion grounded in facts and realities.’’

The issue of carbon pricing has been in the news lately, as federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna confirmed over the weekend that Ottawa will impose some form of carbon pricing system on provinces that won’t adopt either a carbon tax, cap and trade or similar mechanism. Her statement drew criticism from Wall, who said forcing the provinces into climate change policy compliance could strain the relationship between provincial and federal governments.

“It’s not the collaborative approach that the prime minister promised when he was elected,” said Wall.

The premier said his province already has a price on carbon — through its $1.5-billion carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Boundary Dam power station — and any further action by Ottawa could hurt western provinces already under stress because of falling oil prices.

“If it’s some sort of a universal price that will… manifest itself as a tax, and be disproportionately impacting the energy sector, which is already reeling, then we have a big problem in Saskatchewan with that kind of unilateral action,” he told CTV News.

While conceding Alberta and Saskatchewan “each contribute proportionally more to national emissions than any province,” the policy brief argues that a carbon tax is not the best solution for Saskatchewan. “Carbon tax is promoted as a way to plug a policy gap that might exist in certain jurisdictions, but it might not be the optimal strategy for Saskatchewan’s resource-based, exportdependent economy.’’




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