​Alberta ready to cut oil output to ensure producers’ survival

Crude-by-rail racks Image: Northern Platforms Ltd.

Alberta’s government could mandate further cuts to oil production if rising crude supplies and falling prices threaten the survival of drillers in the province.

Crude-by-rail shipments are poised to collapse to about 100,000 barrels a day next month from 500,000 barrels a day forecast for March, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said. While there’s no immediate plan to adjust the province’s program limiting oil output, the government will monitor inventories and step in if storage nears capacity.

“We will use the curtailment tool responsibly to ensure at least a survival price for our producers to get through this,” Kenney said.

Alberta’s government has pledged to do what’s necessary to shore up its oil-dependent economy after world crude prices fell the most since 1991 this week amid a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The two countries’ battle over control of the global oil market comes as the coronavirus pandemic has obliterated energy demand. The sudden collapse in oil prices hit Canadian oil companies hard, prompting oil sands producer Cenovus Energy Inc. to slash capital spending by 32 per cent and cancel its crude-by-rail program.

After conversations with business leaders in recent days, Kenney said he’s also considering payroll tax relief and using the province’s balance sheet to help companies with their current liquidity crisis.

Canada’s oil patch was already struggling with pipeline shortages that prompted the province to impose production limits on its largest producers at the start of last year. The government had started relaxing those restrictions prior to the market downturn.

While no new pipelines are expected to be constructed before year-end at the earliest, increasing volumes of crude have been flowing to the U.S. Gulf Coast on rail lines. Those shipments are now threatened after heavy Western Canadian Select’s price tumbled, with its discount to West Texas Intermediate futures shrinking to $12.75 a barrel on Wednesday, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s too small a price difference to support most crude-by-rail shipments, which require a $15 to $18 a barrel discount.

Western Canadian oil stockpiles, stored primarily in hubs at Edmonton and Hardisty, Alberta, had reached 37 million barrels at the end of December, Imperial Oil Ltd. executives said in January. Inventories declined to 32 million barrels near the end of January, they said, citing Genscape data.

“If producers stop rail shipments, Hardisty will fill and the differentials will widen,” said Brent Osmond, president of crude-by-rail company Clover Oil & Gas LLC. “This further depresses the realized price for Canadian crude, and exacerbates an already difficult situation.”

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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