Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Oilsands optimism on the downslide

The oilsands continue to take public relations hits across the globe. Just recently the Keystone pipeline leaked yet again making for the forth pipeline leak in relation to oilsands pipelines in the last 2 months, 2 of which occured in Alberta. In the midst of all of the bad public relations it seems a very important long term trend has been overlooked: Canada has significantly decreased it's expected oilsands output.

In 2005 the alberta government released a video of their current plans for Alberta's oil economy:

The video makes an estimate that Canadian oil output will be 5million barrels per day by 2030, however just recently the Guardian released an article about Canadian oilsands which contains an interesting little blurb:
Output will increase five-fold to 5m barrels of dirty oil a day by 2040.
Now obviously this author is biased against oilsands oil, and in being so could have his facts wrong. He doesn't source where this output estimate comes from. If he is correct however, that means in the last 6 years, Alberta (and Canada) have significantly lowered their output expectations.

Going by Alberta's original video, over a period of 25 years we would see gains of about 140000 barrels per year. But if the 2040 estimation can be believed we will be seeing a yearly increase of only 100000 barrels per year over a period of 29 years. (Calculations based off 1.5m barrels / day in 2005, 2m barrels / day today).

So what could this indicate? Well for one, it indicates that prior to 2008 economic turbulence probably was not considered by the Alberta Government. Indeed their attitude at the time was "We're in a boom, we have money, it'll never end!", well until it did end that is. It tells us that Canada is overly-optimistic of their production capacity during a time when the input costs are an unknown (the gas and water and electricity needed to power the oilsands operations).

With an estimate of 5m barrels by 2040, I am now forced to lower my estimates of a peak of 3.5m barrels in 2020 to 3m barrels in 2015. We'll never reach the 5million mark, as oil price lead depressions will destroy demand as soon as any sort of production ramps up, causing the sorts of shutdowns we saw in 2008/2009.

Alberta, you need a new plan, and Canada: we'll never become an energy super-power if we expect to get our energy from the energy intensive, unstable, and fiscally impossible oilsands industry.

* Update: Changed calculation results from fractions to whole barrels produced.

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