Alberta's OPEC-style cuts draw down oil backlog, analysis firm says
Energy data group Genscape says inventories in Western Canada fell by 603,000 barrels
Concerns with the fallout from Alberta's OPEC-style cuts may persist, but an energy data analysis firm says the mandatory oil curtailment appears to be drawing down crude inventories.
The province this month imposed an 8.7-per-cent oil-production cut on industry, or roughly 325,000 barrels a day, in order to clear a huge backlog of crude that was punishing Alberta oil prices.
Government officials haven't released statistical updates on the effectiveness of the strategy, but a senior oil analyst at Genscape Inc. said its research indicates the curtailment is working as intended so far.
"We are seeing it through January 19th roughly in line with what the government has stated as their goals to draw down inventories," Mike Walls said in an interview.
On Twitter Friday, Genscape said inventories in Western Canada fell 603,000 barrels to 34 million barrels for the week ending Jan. 18, pointing to it as "further evidence that Alberta production cuts continue to impact the market."
The privately held U.S.-based firm uses both public data and proprietary research to gather information for clients on storage hubs, pipeline flows and crude-by-rail shipments in Western Canada.
The province did not confirm Genscape's figures. The government gets its data from a third party and the information is not publicly available.
"We're currently reviewing how much has been drawn down from all storage levels across Alberta," government spokesperson Mike McKinnon said in an email. "More information, including the next steps, will be available soon."
Alberta is matching its production levels to its estimated export capacity, while also encouraging a drawdown in storage levels. For January and February, this production limit is 3.6 million barrels a day of raw crude and bitumen, which is slightly lower than the province's estimated export capacity.
On Friday, the difference was under $10 US a barrel. In the fall, it had spiked to over $50.
Energy economist Peter Tertzakian, executive director of the ARC Energy Research Institute, said he believes the policy is working and that the price is a good gauge.
"The differential has rebounded," said Tertzakian.
"I'm optimistic we're through the worst of it and hopefully we won't need government intervention in the future. But the extraordinary action that they took at that time was appropriate.
"We were facing catastrophic layoffs had the situation gone on for several more weeks. I believe that was averted. Now, the situation is still not healthy, but I believe the government prevented something far worse from happening."
Alberta announced in early December that it would temporarily impose production cuts on the industry in 2019.
The decision followed calls from some oil company CEOs — and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney — for the province to enact a mandatory curtailment to bolster prices, improve cash flow and stem job losses.
Conference Board of Canada chief economist Pedro Antunes wrote this month that intervening in industry production plans "could hurt the province's attractiveness for future investment over the long term."
But he also said the near-term solution "will likely be effective in shoring up prices and heading off a decline in royalties and a larger pullback in activity in the oilfield services sector."
Industry and government will also be mindful of any significant interruption to rail or pipeline movement, which could have major impacts on the effort to reduce the oil glut if they occurred.
Kevin Birn, an oilsands analyst with IHS Markit, said Alberta's curtailment policy is probably something that's going to be judged over a longer period of time.
"Yes, differentials have narrowed and that's a positive metric because the prices we saw prior to Christmas were unsustainable," Birn said. "But curtailment needs to be measured over a longer period of time."