Oil prices should average around $55 US a barrel in 2017 for West Texas Intermediate, which should be enough for many slimmed-down Alberta producers to operate profitably, according to the latest forecast from financial advisory firm Deloitte.
"It's significantly better than what the average was through last year, which is bringing some optimism into the sector," said Andrew Botterill with Deloitte's resource evaluation and advisory group.
"Obviously, it isn't at a level that's going to allow all producers to produce all of their inventory," Botterill added.
"But it certainly is better than we've seen for some time. And with reductions in operating costs that companies have realized in the last year or two, there are more plays that are going to be economic."
The OPEC agreement to limit production is one factor at play, but that alone isn't likely to increase prices substantially anytime soon, according to Deloitte's outlook.
"It's going to take some time for people to really see how many barrels are going to leave the system with the OPEC cuts," Botterill said.
"And, of course, there is still a little bit of a concern on whether that's going to get through all of the oversupply that's in the system."
Natural gas prices stronger
Natural gas prices were poor in first half of 2016 but strengthened in the last half of the year. Recent cold weather suggests they may stay strong into early 2017, Botterill said.
Still, he noted, the cost of bringing on more natural gas production in both Canada and the U.S. remains "quite cheap," so a sudden and sustained price spike is unlikely.
"It's tough to see how we're going to get very high, elevated prices," he said.
Deloitte expects Henry Hub prices to average around $3.25 per thousand cubic feet in 2017, which Botterill said is "significantly stronger" than a year ago.
Overall, he said, the outlook for the oil and gas sector is improving.
"There's a lot of opportunity in the sector now, and there's some optimism in producers, and I think we're going to see a much better 2017 than … last year."