Threatened by surging production from North America, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has been pumping above its quota for 17 months as it seeks to take market share from higher-cost regions. The resulting 60 percent price crash is hitting Alberta harder than Texas.
Canadian producers are struggling to cut the cost of extracting bitumen from the oil sands, and their other wells are failing to match the efficiency gains of U.S. rivals, a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis shows. While output keeps rising in the Permian Basin, the largest U.S. shale play, companies are slowing output from wells in Alberta and have shelved 18 oil-sands projects during the downturn, according to ARC Financial Corp.
“OPEC wants to hinder shale from its strong growth trajectory but there are higher-cost producers, such as in the oil sands of Canada, that are in the line of fire,” said Peter Pulikkan, an analyst at BI in New York. “Shale will eventually be impacted but it’s not the first on the list.”
In a policy shift a year ago, the 12-nation cartel decided against propping up oil prices, keeping its output target at 30 million barrels a day even as the supply glut worsened. It has exceeded that ceiling since June 2014 and pumped 32.2 million barrels a day in October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In Alberta, high extraction costs and oil price discounts relative to global benchmarks are poised to continue crimping output, Pulikkan and BI analysts Michael Kay, Gurpal Dosanjh, Andrew Cosgrove, Rob Barnett, Cheryl Wilson and William Foiles said in research published Wednesday. Production, excluding bitumen extraction, dropped about 13 percent this year through July, That compares with a roughly 19 percent increase in output from Permian wells over the same period.
“We are one of the highest-cost basins in the world,” said Rafi Tahmazian, a Calgary-based fund manager at Canoe Financial LP. He predicted more job losses as Canadian producers try to save money and stay profitable with low prices. “We’re constantly working to bring down those costs.”
U.S. crude has plummeted from a $107.26 closing high in New York on June 20 of last year to just above $40 a barrel. The Canadian heavy-oil benchmark is trading at about $15 less than that.
Parts of Canada’s energy industry have been resilient. Existing oil-sands projects have kept production flowing and the weaker Canadian currency has helped exporters. Still, Canadian production is poised to be slower to rebound than U.S. shale in a market recovery.
New oil-sands projects require long investment lead times and the Canadian dollar will strengthen along with oil prices, eroding the currency advantage, according to Manuj Nikhanj, co-head of energy research at ITG Investment Research in Calgary. Investors are shying away from financing Alberta producers because of an increase in provincial levies, Nikhanj said in an e-mail.
There’s a risk that the U.S. eats all of Canada’s lunch, according to BI’s Pulikkan. Producers have been awaiting higher prices to turn on a backlog of U.S. shale wells that have been drilled and capped. Once they come on stream, they could push prices back down, rendering Canadian output uncompetitive yet again, he said.
“Before they even have a chance to get off the ground, shale will likely beat them to the punch,” Pulikkan said.