The Oil Sands Weekly

The Oil Sands Weekly

Another oil major joins the "divest-Canada" movement . . . 

Reuters is reporting that Chevron is looking to sell its 20% stake in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP), which includes the Albian Sands mining operation (both the Muskeg River and Jackpine mines) and the Scotford upgrader near Edmonton, AB.

Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL) recently purchased a big chunk of AOSP from Shell and Marathon Oil for US$11 billion, making it a logical buyer for Chevron's 20% share. Chevron has reportedly engaged several investment banks to find a buyer for the oil sands assets, estimated to be worth US$2.5 billion.

Anonymous sources cite unfavourable economic competitiveness as a reason for the sale. Despite the addition of new carbon taxes, higher income taxes and added regulatory hurdles, both the federal and provincial governments so far have refused to acknowledge any competitive disadvantage for Canada's energy sector. 

Chevron also put its Vancouver refinery and retail gas stations up for sale last year, but has yet to announce a buyer.

If successful, Chevron would join Statoil, Marathon Oil, ConocoPhillips and Shell on the list of international oil majors divesting significant Canadian assets. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley calls the asset sales a "reorganization" of the Canadian energy sector and not a withdrawal of capital. 

Cenovus shareholders remain jittery . . . 

Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson confirmed this week his company has already secured 75% of the financing required for its recent acquisition of oil sands and conventional assets from ConocoPhillips.

Ferguson says there is strong interest in the company's Pelican Lake and Suffield conventional oil and natural gas assets, which are currently up for sale. The CEO also promised to do more hedging of its future oil production to help ensure a floor price for its bitumen sales.

Despite the positive tone, Cenovus stock (TSX:CVE) has been under severe pressure, falling almost 20% since the deal was announced, despite an increase in oil prices. CVE shares are now back to the lows of early 2016, when oil prices were trading closer to US$30 a barrel. 

Ferguson insists the "strategic rationale" is well understood by the company's investors. The $17.7 billion deal will be financed through the issuance of more Cenovus shares, senior notes and a short-term bridge loan of $3.6 billion to be repaid pending the sale of the Pelican Lake and Suffield properties.

Pembina bets big on NGLs . . . 

Pembina Pipeline provided an update this week on its plans to build an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) export terminal on BC's west coast.

The company has signed a non-binding letter of intent with the City of Prince Rupert to develop the West Coast Terminal on Watson Island, located about 15 km south of the city.

The export terminal has an estimated capital cost of $125-$175 million for an LPG export capacity of 20,000 bbl/day. The project is expected to take two years to construct once a final investment decision has been made and all regulatory approvals are in place. Pembina has already commenced site assessment and stakeholder consultations.

The company also announced this week it is progressing on expansion of the Kakwa River gathering facility, required to accommodate additional volumes from Seven Generations Energy. Engineering is also advancing at the 100 million cf/day Duvernay II facility (a replica of Duvernay I) located near Pembina's Fox Creek Terminal.

Spurned AIMCo demands loan repayment . . . 

Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) is demanding repayment of the outstanding balance of a $200 million loan made to Savanna Energy Services last November, now that Total Energy Services has taken control of the company. 

AIMCo had previously warned it did not consent to a change of management at Savanna, which would immediately trigger a repayment of the loan plus 3%. The amount outstanding is $111 million in loans, interest and fees. The notice puts Savanna technically in default, however, AIMCo must wait 180 days until collection can be enforced. Savanna's board says it is evaluating all options for refinancing.

AIMCo threw its support behind a failed competing bid from Western Energy Services. Savanna's management also agreed to pay Western a $20 million break-up fee should the deal be unsuccessful. However, Total Energy Services maintains that Western is not owed any money since the failed bid does not meet the conditions of the break-up fee.

Slight optimism among Canadian executives . . . 

A survey of Canadian executives taken in the first quarter of this year reveals a slight improvement in business confidence. The Gandalf Group's latest Quarterly C-Suite Survey asked 156 executives across Canada how they feel about the Canadian economy, the new Trump Administration, NAFTA and Canada-US relations.

Executives are buoyed by President Trump's pro-business, pro-pipelines and pro-infrastructure agenda and think the federal government should follow Trump's lead on lowering corporate taxes and regulatory red-tape. About 70% of executives expect their businesses will benefit from the new Administration’s policies while 40% believe they will benefit from the recent approval of Keystone XL.

About 92% of executives now expect strong to moderate growth, up from 89% in Q4 of 2016.

This week's regulatory news . . . 

The National Energy Board (NEB) has expanded the scope of a previously issued Safety Advisory requiring pipeline operators to report purchased and installed off-spec piping materials. The new advisory now requires companies to name the manufacturers of fittings that do not meet specifications, and include details of mitigation measures to ensure safe operation. The regulator says is has recently become aware of quality issues associated with fittings, but there is no immediate risk to the public or specific incidents reported.

The NEB also announced this week it will hold public hearings on plans by NOVA Gas to remove 9 km of the Peace River Mainline located on the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation Reserve Land and abandon the remaining 257 km in place. Above ground facilities (such as compressor stations, buildings and foundations) will be decommissioned and removed. This is the largest abandonment application ever reviewed by the NEB. NOVA Gas is a wholly owned subsidiary of TransCanada.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released its 3 year strategic plan this week, promising to take the long-term view on addressing climate change and seeking to manage overall cumulative effects of energy development. Objectives includes ensuring sustainable water usage, lessening volumes of fluid tailings, lowering methane emissions from oil and gas operations, reducing GHGs from the oil sands and decreasing the frequency of pipeline incidents. The AER also says it continues to look for "new and better ways to manage the costs of regulation."

Other Canadian energy news . . . 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will be visiting China and Japan over the next few weeks to talk climate change, clean technology and renewables. The Alberta government says its mission is to grow the province's energy market and diversify exports beyond the US. Other items on the agenda include tourism, agriculture and oil and gas exports. This is the Premier's first mission to the Asia-Pacific region. China and Japan rank a very distant second and third as Alberta's largest trading partners, after the US.

Emissions Reductions Alberta (ERA) has appointed Steve MacDonald as its new CEO. Chair Kathleen Sendall says the Board is confident that MacDonald will help ERA "identify and accelerate advancement of innovative technologies that will help Alberta transition to a lower carbon future." MacDonald is a former public servant and has held the position of Interim CEO for the past year while an external recruitment firm conducted a national search for a new CEO.

Calgary-based US Oil Sands announced the completion of commissioning at its PR Spring Project in Utah's Uinta Basin, now entering the start-up phase. The company says it expects to optimize operations sometime in the second quarter. The company also reported a full year net loss of $51 million for 2016 but says there is minimal capital required to complete remaining start-up activities. After reaching over $10 a share in 2013, US Oil Sands stock (TSXV:USO) hit a new low of $0.68 this week.

Husky Energy has signed a Production Sharing Contract for a new exploration block in the Pearl River Mouth Basin, about 150 kilometres offshore Hong Kong. The company expects to drill two exploration wells sometime next year. Husky owns a 100% working interest during exploration. Should the company find the basin to be commercially viable, partner CNOOC reserves the right to assume as much as 51% during the development and production phase.

Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin was awarded a six-year contract for inspection services at both the Hibernia and Hebron oil platforms located offshore Newfoundland's east coast. SNC has provided inspection services for Hibernia for the past 19 years. Both platforms are operated by ExxonMobil Canada.

Drivers in Quebec and Ontario were told to brace for more hikes to gasoline prices this week as refineries in the Midwest switch from winter to summer gasoline blends and demand for gasoline increases south of the border. Prices in the Toronto area topped $1.22 per litre this week while prices in Montreal were spotted as high as $1.27. Vancouver gas prices still take the top spot nation-wide, at close to $1.40/L. Gas prices are now back to levels last seen in October 2014 when WTI was trading near US$85/bbl.

"Buy America" directive not well received on either side of the border . . .

Various trade associations representing the US energy sector and pipeline operators are asking President Trump to reconsider his Administration's recent executive order requiring the use of US steel for pipeline construction. 

The coalition, which includes the American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and Association of Oil Pipelines, warns that such a regulation will increase costs and limit new pipeline construction, which may have the unintended consequence of delaying or deferring new projects.

Trump has ordered his Commerce Department to develop a plan to maximize the use of American steel for pipeline construction. Lobbyists argue their industry requires a wide variety of steel grade, meeting tight specifications and that the current domestic capacity is limited at best. The association wants exemptions for cost, quality and schedule.

Trump has attempted to connect pipeline approvals to his "Buy America" agenda, although it remains unclear how the Administration would make such a regulation legally binding. The US Chamber of Commerce has already noted that the federal government can mandate sourcing requirements for publicly-funded projects but "imposing similar mandates upon privately funded commercial projects would be unprecedented."

Steel producers in the US, Canada and the EU have been hit hard in recent years by cheap Chinese imports, often sold below cost due to significant over-production in China.

However, not all steel producers are thrilled with Trump's plan. UK-based Evraz, which operates steel mills on both sides of the border says its business "depends on the free flow of goods between the US and Canada." Evraz has committed to manufacturing 25% of the piping required for the Keystone XL pipeline in its Regina steel mill, the largest mill in Canada.

The Canadian federal government says it "has serious concerns regarding the plan that the Department has been asked to develop given the negative impact the envisioned restrictions would have on our shared supply chains and the Canada-U.S. trade relationship." The government warns the restriction would create a "negative precedent, increase the regulatory burden and be contrary to fundamental World Trade Organization and North American Free Trade Agreement obligations."

ConocoPhillips scores US$16 billion in asset sales in just a few weeks . . .

ConocoPhillips has agreed to sell natural gas assets in the San Juan basin to privately-held Hilcorp Energy for US$3 billion. The deal is comprised of $2.7 billion in cash and a $300 million contingency payment. 

Hilcorp Energy is in partnership with private equity firm Carlyle Group to acquire and develop North American oil and gas properties. The San Juan assets, located in New Mexico and SW Colorado, currently produce 124,000 boe/day, weighted about 80% gas. 

Coupled with their recent US$13.3 billion asset sale to Cenovus, ConocoPhillips is on track to achieve US$16 billion in divestitures this year and "materially reduce" their exposure to North America's natural gas market.

Other notable US energy news . . . 

EPC firm Fluor was awarded a contract for engineering and procurement as part of Marathon Petroleum’s reconfiguration of its Galveston Bay and Texas City refineries. The retrofit will allow the two refineries to meet updated EPA Tier 3 gasoline sulphur standards. Fluor is also performing front-end engineering and design (FEED) work for Marathon’s South Texas Asset Repositioning (STAR) program. Marathon has committed US$2 billion towards the STAR program, which will fully integrate both the Galveston Bay and Texas City refineries, increase crude processing capacity, increase distillate and gas oil recovery and improve reliability. Once completed, the complex will have a crude processing capacity of 585,000 barrels per day, making it the second-largest refinery in the US.

Kinder Morgan and DCP Midstream have partnered up to construct the Gulf Coast Express Pipeline, connecting natural gas production from the Permian Basin to the Texas Gulf Coast. The system will be designed to transport up to 1.7 Bcf/day of natural gas approximately 430 miles (700 km) from the Waha area to Agua Dulce, Texas. The line is expected to be in service in the second half of 2019, subject to shipper commitments. Kinder Morgan will build and operate the pipeline.

San Antonio-based MLP NuStar Energy has agreed to acquire Navigator Energy Services for US$1.475 billion. The acquisition adds about 500 miles (800 km) of crude pipelines, a pipeline gathering system and about 1 million barrels of storage capacity in the West Texas Midland Basin to NuStar's portfolio. NuStar Energy is one of the largest independent liquids terminal and pipeline operators in the US, with approximately 95 million barrels of storage capacity worldwide, including Eastern Canada. The company plans to issue 10.5 million shares (NYSE:NS) to help pay for the acquisition.

A federal judge in North Dakota has ruled that Energy Transfer Partners need not divulge any information that might put the Dakota Access Pipeline at risk of sabotage. Lawyers for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had requested detailed information on pipe design and routing in order to assess spill risks along the line. The tribes' federal lawsuit against the pipeline is still ongoing.

Mining giants in the oil business . . . 

Activist shareholder Elliott Advisors is putting pressure on Australia's BHP Billiton to boost shareholder value by scrapping its dual-class share structure, increasing its dividend and divesting its US oil business. Elliot points out that BHP shares have underperformed its peers. 

Oil and gas now accounts for about 20% of BHP's profits. The mining company purchased Petrohawk Energy for US$15 billion six years ago and now produces about 680,000 bbl/day of oil. BHP is the second largest oil producer in Australia, 4th largest producer in the US Gulf of Mexico and the 8th largest player in US shale. 

BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie, a former BP executive, has focused the company's growth on oil and copper. Mackenzie says he has considered divesting BHP's oil unit at least twice since 2013, rejecting it both times. 

BHP says implementing the recommendations would be risky and add little value. Elliot Advisor's owns about 4% of the mining giant.

Confusion at the G7 energy meeting in Rome . . .

G7 energy ministers failed to sign joint declaration in Italy due to wording related to combating climate change. The group met in Rome this week to discuss energy security, LNG supply and investment for renewables.

Italian Minister Carlo Calenda said the US has asked for more time to "review its climate policies" before any final declaration can be agreed upon. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry maintains his team has not yet taken a position on the Paris Accord, signed by President Obama. 

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr attended on behalf of Canada, noting that international cooperation is critical on energy matters. Carr added that the world is transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and Canada remains committed to growing the clean energy sector in order to "capture the emerging opportunities for economic growth and job creation."

The next G7 meeting will be held at the end of May in Taormina, Sicily. The G7 includes France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the UK and the US.

Around the world this week . . . 

Algeria is looking at loosening its regulations and taxes in order to attract more foreign investment into its oil and gas sector. The north African country has seen stagnant production but needs more foreign investment to boost long-term output. The country amended its laws in 2013, offering more incentives for development of its unconventional resources. Algeria is the third gas supplier to the Europe Union after Russia and Norway.

France's Total and partner Hanwha have agreed to expand their Daesan refining & petrochemicals integrated platform in South Korea. The US$450 million project will increase the facility’s ethylene capacity by 30% to 1.4 million tons/year. The retrofit will improve the site’s flexibility, allowing it to convert cheap and abundant US shale gas into ethylene for sale into Chinese markets. The expansion project is expected to be completed by mid-2019. 

Malaysia's state-owned Petronas is looking to sell as much as 49% of its SK316 gas field offshore the country's Sarawak state. The company says it is looking for partners with expertise and funds to help explore, develop and operate the gas fields. The block includes the Kasawari field, estimated to hold about 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. According to Wood Mackenzie, Kasawari's high CO₂ content adds complexity and increases capital costs for any future development. Potential bidders for the asset, estimated to be worth US$1 billion, include Shell, ExxonMobil and Thailand's PTT Exploration.

BP announced the start-up of its Trinidad onshore compression project, one of seven major upstream projects the company expects to bring online this year. The facility will improve production capacity at BP's existing acreage in the Columbus basin, off the east coast of Trinidad and Tobago. The company says this is all part of its plan to bring another 500,000 bbl/day online in 2017.

Cyprus and Turkey have resumed negotiations on construction of the 1,900 km Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline. The line would be located mostly offshore (1,300 km) and have an initial capacity of 350 Bcf/year of natural gas. The project would connect offshore gas reserves in the Levantine Basin, off the coast of Cyprus and Israel, into Greece, connecting into Italy and several other EU countries. The pipeline has been under negotiations for almost 2 years but was stuck in limbo due to a territorial dispute between Cyprus and Turkey.

Argentina's state owned YPF has put in a bid for Shell's 113,000 bbl/day refinery in Buenos Aires. Shell put the refinery for sale last year as part of its plan to raise US$30 billion in cash. The Argentinian assets are worth about US$1 billion.


million bbl/day • preliminary data by EIA
million bbls • data by EIA

million bbl/day • data by EIA & Baker Hughes

-383k ▼ 10.7%
+36k ▲ 0.4%
-2.17M ▼ 0.4%
+11 ▲ 1.6%

In their latest Short Term Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has bumped up expected 2018 US crude production from 9.7 to 9.9 million bbl/day. Estimated 2017 average production was roughly unchanged at 9.2 million bbl/day. US crude stockpiles are also expected to decline to 486 million barrels by 2018, down from the current 535 million barrels.

OPEC's latest Monthly Oil Market Report showed a 580,000 bbl/day increase from nations excluded from production cuts (mainly the US). OPEC also reported a drawdown in OECD stockpiles to about 2.99 billion barrels (excluding SPR), representing about 64 days of supply.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also reported a small decline in global stockpiles for the months of February and March, partially offsetting large builds in January. The IEA estimates OECD stocks have increased by 38.5 million barrels in the first quarter of 2017. The Paris-based agency says world oil supply declined by 755,000 bbl/day on OPEC's production cuts but expects non-OPEC supply to grow 485,000 bbl/day this year. The IEA estimates OPEC production averaged 31.9 million bbl/day in Q1 but will increase to 32.9 in the second quarter.

According to secondary sources, 11 select OPEC members produced 29.76 million bbl/day in March, slightly lower than their agreed production ceiling of 29.8 million bbl/day. Including Nigeria and Libya, production totalled 31.939 million bbl/day, a decline of 19,000 bbl/day from the previous month. 

Libya's production took another step back this week as rebels blocked a recently reopened pipeline. Saudi Arabia claims to have produced 9.9 million bbl/day in March, a drop of 111,000 bbl/day from February.

OPEC says their compliance has been "more than anticipated" while compliance for non-OPEC members is "satisfactory and getting better." 


Friday close • data by Bank of Canada & ICE

-0.66 ▼ 0.7%
+0.46 ▲ 0.6%
-0.14 ▼ 5.9%
US 10Y Bond
-0.10 ▼ 6.3%
CDN 10Y Bond

This week's economic data out of Statistics Canada:

  • Manufacturing sales fell 0.2% in February to $53.6 billion, the first decline in three months.
  • After four consecutive monthly gains, sales of energy products fell 5.0% to $5.1 billion, reflecting lower prices and a 2% decline in volumes.
  • Job vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2016 were up 6.3% y/y, but roughly unchanged from Q3/16.
  • The national job vacancy rate increased from 2.3% to 2.4%, driven largely by unfilled positions in BC, Ontario and Quebec.
  • The number of unfilled positions in Alberta declined 8,100 in Q4, dropping the vacancy rate from 2.5% to 2.2%.

The Bank of Canada (BoC) held rates unchanged this week at 0.50%. The Bank signalled cautious optimism on expectations for growth and inflation, remaining "mindful of the significant uncertainties weighing on the outlook."  The BoC says recent economic data has been better than expected due to a resumption of spending in the oil and gas sector, but says those effects are "temporary". GDP growth forecast for 2017 has been revised lower to 2.5% in 2017, falling below 2% in 2018 and 2019. The Bank seems convinced Trump's protectionist stance will be a net negative for Canada.

OPEC has revised its expectations for 2017 global economic growth from 3.2% to 3.3% on an improved economic outlook for Japan, Russia and China.

The US dollar took a step back this week after President Donald Trump changed his mind on China being a currency manipulator and lamented a strong US dollar during an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Trump took partial responsibility for the strong dollar, attributed to "confidence" in his ability to manage the US economy. The US dollar jumped 2% post-election but has since been stuck in a narrow trading range. Trump also says he now supports a low interest policy and remains open to leaving Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve.

Friday close, USD/bbl • data by CME Group

+0.65 ▲ 1.2%
+0.94 ▲ 1.8%
+0.87 ▲ 1.7%
+1.52 ▲ 3.6%

The EIA has lowered their predictions for the average WTI prices in 2017 and 2018 to US$52.24 and US$55.10 per barrel, respectively, both about 2% lower than the March forecast.

Scotiabank says the oil market recovery "remains on track but fragile," maintaining a rather bearish stance until US inventories begin to meaningfully decline. The bank downgraded their forecast for WTI to US$53/bbl in Q1 (down from a previous forecast of US$58) and US$56 in 2018 (revised lower from US$61). The bank cites strong US shale output as a reason for the downward revision, despite expectations that OPEC will extend its production cuts through the second half of 2017.

Oil prices nudged higher this week after Saudi Arabia reportedly told OPEC officials it wants to extend its output cuts for an additional six months. 

Friday close • data by TSX & NYSE
Friday close • data by TSX & NYSE

Friday close • data by TSX & NYSE

Pengrowth Energy (PGF) has closed on its previously announced sale of non-producing Montney assets in NE BC for $92 million in cash. Coupled with the recent sale of its Swan Hills properties for $272 million, the company's debt has been cut in half since the end of last year.

Inter Pipeline (IPL) announced the issuance of $500 million in senior unsecured debt at an annualized interest rate of 2.734% maturing in 2024.

This week's 52-week highs on the TSX include Enerflex (EFX), Pembina Pipeline (PPL), Shawcor (SCL) and Veresen (VSN). Cenovus Energy (CVE) closed at a new yearly low this week.


  • Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) Upgraded from Market Perform to Outperform at Raymond James Financial.
  • Painted Pony Petroleum (TSX:PPY): Downgraded from Outperform to Sector Perform at Scotiabank. Price target decrease from $10 to $7.25.
  • Penn West Petroleum (TSX:PWT): Downgraded from Outperform to Market Perform at Raymond James Financial.
  • Precision Drilling (NYSE:PDS): Upgraded from Hold to Buy at Jefferies.




  • API Weekly Statistics Bulletin released @ 4:30pm ET
  • Calgary Chamber of Commerce 2017 AGM
  • Speech by Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Wilkins on automation, productivity and monetary policy at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.


  • 2017 ISA (Instrumentation, Systems & Automation) kicks off in Calgary, AB
  • EIA Weekly Petroleum Status Report released @ 8:30am ET
  • Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson answers questions at Energy Future: Alberta's Carbon Tax at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
  • Q1/2017 earnings: CP Rail


  • February Employment Insurance data released by StatsCan @ 8:30am
  • EIA Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
  • G20 Finance Ministers and central bankers meet in Washington, DC.


  • Baker-Hughes Rig Count released @ 1:00pm ET
  • Q1/2017 earnings: Schlumberger

Next edition of the Oil Sands Weekly: Saturday April 22, 2017 @ 12pm MT.

The Oil Sands Weekly

The Oil Sands Weekly

The Oil Sands Weekly

The Oil Sands Weekly