The US became the world’s biggest crude oil producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, as the oil price recovery for most of 2018 led to booming production from American shale oil fields, especially from the Permian in West Texas and New Mexico.
Canada, for its part, has been struggling for more than a year with constrained access to market for its oil and gas, which has led to depressed Canadian oil and gas prices. The insufficient market access also led to an unprecedented move by the biggest oil province, Alberta, which mandated a province-wide reduction of oil production in its effort to ease takeaway capacity constraints and prop up the price of Canadian heavy oil, which at one point in the autumn of 2018 dropped to as low as around $10 a barrel.
The production curtailment of 325,000 barrels a day, or 8.7 percent of output, was aimed at reducing market volatility and narrowing the differential between Western Canadian Select (WCS) prices and the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI).
Some Canadian producers, like Cenovus Energy, have argued for the province-wide cuts. But other companies—especially firms with investments in downstream operations that had benefited from the low prices of refinery feedstocks such as Imperial Oil, Suncor Energy, and Husky Energy—still believe that Alberta was wrong to intervene on a free market with production restraints.
Canada’s oil prices have increased since the reductions were enacted in January 2019 and Alberta has started to gradually ease the cuts. The province is also boosting the crude by rail takeaway capacity to transport oil out of landlocked Alberta as the in-service date for a new oil pipeline is at least a year and a half away.
In March 2019, Enbridge said that the expected in-service date for the Line 3 Replacement project would be pushed to the second half of 2020. Line 3 is designed to expand on the former Line 3 Segment Replacement Program between Hardisty, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin, in the US.
Alberta has been fighting for years to have another outlet for Canadian oil, this time to the West Coast of Canada—the Trans Mountain expansion project. The project has seen several setbacks over the past years, and is now in the hands of the Canadian federal government, which bought it from Kinder Morgan last year.
Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley said at a campaign rally in early April that she expected the federal government to approve the Trans-Mountain Pipeline by the end of May.
Like with oil production, Canada’s natural gas industry faces the same predicament—limited market access for exports to the fastest-growing demand region, Asia.
“Whether we’re talking about oil or natural gas, the details are different but the story is the same. Albertans are getting pennies on the dollar because we can’t get our resources to international markets, and our biggest customer has become our biggest competitor,” Alberta’s Minister of Energy Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said in December when the province announced the creation of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Investment Team. The team would “work directly with industry on reducing barriers for securing final investment decisions on export projects that will increase the value of Alberta’s natural gas resources,” the province says.
Two months earlier, Canada had its first LNG project pass the FID. The five companies behind the LNG Canada project—Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corporation, and KOGAS—made a final investment decision in October 2018 to proceed with the construction of the LNG Canada export facility and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
In early April, Chevron and Woodside Energy applied for a new licence for their planned Kitimat LNG facility in British Columbia, proposing to almost double the size of this project.
Market access, that is new pipelines and export avenues for Canada’s oil and gas, are crucial to the country’s economy, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said in a report in March 2019.
Despite the abundance of natural resources, the lack of pipelines and other energy transportation infrastructure are crippling Canada’s ability to compete for global market share, according to the association.
CAPP President and CEO Tim McMillan said, commenting on the report: “Global energy demand is growing; however, without new pipelines, Canada’s oil and natural gas industry can’t compete for a share of the global market. Instead, growing demand will be filled by other countries like Iraq, Libya, and the United States”.
The United States, on the other hand, has seen its oil production grow so much that it has recently made the country the world’s largest crude oil producer, ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“In a pivotal geopolitical shift, the United States will soon export more oil and liquids than Saudi Arabia. This remarkable turnaround is made possible by the continued rise in oil production from US shale plays and the increased oil export capacity from the Gulf Coast,” Rystad Energy said in an analysis in early March 2019.
According to Rystad Energy research and analysis, in Q4 2020 the US will become a net exporter of oil and petroleum products in a sustainable manner. US oil production, which jumped by some 2 million bpd in 2018, will increase by nearly another 1 million bpd this year, despite the fact that independent drillers are cutting capital expenditure for 2019, according to the energy research firm.
“This year’s lowered pace of oilfield activity provides support for global oil balances and crude oil prices. And regardless of the reduced investments being made in the first quarter, we will still see significant production growth in the US towards year-end,” Rystad Energy senior partner Per Magnus Nysveen said.
The shale boom has been driving the rise in natural gas production in the US, too. In addition, more LNG exports projects are expected to come online this year, boosting US exports of gas.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), LNG export capacity in the US will double from end-2018 to reach 8.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) by the end of 2019, making it the third-largest in the world behind Australia and Qatar.
In February 2019, another LNG project was given the green light—ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum made a FID to proceed with the development of the Golden Pass LNG export project in Sabine Pass, Texas. The facility is expected to start up in 2024.
Both the United States and Canada are looking to boost market access for their oil and gas. While the US continues to grow its production, export capacity, and exports, Canada needs more oil pipelines and LNG facilities in order to compete in oil and gas exports globally.