Alberta Angst: Squabbling over pipelines & threatening financial security


For years it has been a Bitumen Benefit ... thick tarry crude pulled out of the Alberta Oil Sands at an increasingly dizzying rate, the most significant driver of the Canadian economy. But suddenly it is a Bitumen Bubble worth billions in losses, breaking budgets ... both provincial and federal and triggering urgent warnings that Canadians will pay an unparalleled price without rapid pipeline production to send that product to Asia. How did such a turn around happen seemingly so quickly? Are we on an economic brink?

Director of Energy & Environmental Policy at U of Calgary, Michael Moore

With respect to the Keystone, Secretary Clinton has put in place a very open and transparent process which I am committed to seeing through. And we hope that we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term. I don't want to pin down precisely when. But I assure you, in the near term. - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Canadians are still waiting to find out whether the Obama Administration will approve the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline which would carry Alberta bitumen to U.S. refineries. In his State of the Union speech last night, President Obama made no mention of the Keystone pipeline but he did indicate he wanted to bring in market-based climate legislation.

As with the also-proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, it is facing fierce opposition. The fight has, of course, been going on for some time. But now, some think Canada can't afford to let it keep dragging on.

Yesterday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the inability to get Canadian energy to market is one of the top ten threats to Canadian competitiveness in 2013. Alberta Premier Alison Redford is fretting about what the delays are doing to her province's finances.

And a report from the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy says the province may be running out of time to make a move. Michael Moore is the Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and he co-authored the report. He was in Palo Alto, California.

Panel: Deborah Yedlin / Robyn Allan

Historically the price that we receive for our oil has been a few dollars less than Texas oil. And that differential had been manageable. But since September, that gap has grown considerably. And that trend is getting worse for the forseeable future. The vast majority of our oil is now bitumen from the oil sands. And because of rapidly growing levels of oil production in the United States and the fact that we've virtually nowhere else to sell our oil but to the U.S. market, Alberta is getting just over $50-a-barrel for our oil. - Alberta Premier Alison Redford

To put that number in perspective, yesterday the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil closed at $97.51-a-barrel. So Alberta's bitumen is selling roughly $40-a-barrel less than the price of conventional crude and that is now characterized as a discount.

Most observers say that's partly because there's no easy way to get it to markets beyond the United States. The Canada West Foundation has just released a report -- paid for by the Saskatchewan Government -- which says that each stalled pipeline project means a loss to the Canadian economy of between 30 and 70 million-dollars-a-day.

For some perspective on this, we were joined by Deborah Yedlin. She is a business columnist with the Calgary Herald. She has written extensively about the oil industry and she was in Calgary.

And Robyn Allan is an independent economist from Vancouver who was an expert witness in the Northern Gateway hearings. She was in Winnipeg this morning.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Michael O'Halloran, Naheed Mustafa and Vanessa Greco.

We'd love to hear what you think about this. Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Follow us on Facebook. Or e-mail us through our website. Call us toll-free at 1 877 287 7366. And you can always write to us at PO Box 500, Station A, Toronto, M5W 1E6.

Other segments from today's show:

Patients without Doctors, Doctors without Jobs

Ghost Ships: A hazard to shipping & the environment

Comments are closed.