Quantcast

New Keystone XL Report Calls Pipeline A Mirage for Tar Sands Investors

New research from the Carbon Tracker Initiative reveals approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would only have a marginal positive impact of the economics of the Canadian oil-sands industry, but could trigger a rush of investment into additional risky high-cost, high-carbon projects, dependent on rising oil prices.

The report, Keystone XL Pipeline: A Potential Mirage for Oil-sands Investors, shows "new Canadian oil-sands development is increasingly economically questionable without the additional export capacity that pipelines such as Keystone XL would bring," says Mark Lewis, external research advisor to Carbon Tracker. "But the vision of improved prices it promises could quickly be wiped out by increasing costs, meaning investors who believed the mirage of improved oil-sands economics with KXL will be left disappointed."

"Efforts to stay within a carbon budget, increase fuel efficiency, reduce costs and improve air quality mean that if capital continues to flow into oil sands, the projects risk becoming stranded assets," says Carbon Tracker’s research director, James Leaton.

Questionable Project Economics

Oil sands in situ projects currently under consideration need above $65/barrel net-present value to break-even according to Rystad Energy. Given the discounted price Western Canada Select output achieves, these projects will not produce a profit.

Keystone XL will enable oil sands production to achieve higher prices—perhaps equivalent to the current Maya (Mexican heavy crude) price or WTI price achieved on the U.S. Gulf Coast, generating a $20/barrel price uplift.

However, it is not clear that the margin will improve given the cost increases that will accompany the uplift in price. Production with Keystone XL will incur greater pipeline transit and diluent costs reducing this uplift to around $5.5/barrel. This leaves only a few dollars margin to absorb other factors such as potential carbon offset costs, likely inflation in labor, materials and energy costs.

This makes it questionable that the margins will improve sufficiently to make even the lowest cost $65/barrel projects provide sufficient returns for investors. Investment in heavy oil refining capacity will also need to be factored in if production increases.

The economics of rail are no more promising than Keystone XL. It is not clear that sufficient commitments are in place to utilise new capacity at the current cost levels. The volumes that could be brought on stream are also not likely to be equivalent to the time and scale of a pipeline such as Keystone XL.

Carbon Pollution

Keystone XL and rail are additional export routes to the current limited infrastructure. The export capacity is the limiting factor to production—which the industry body figures show could utilize all mooted pipeline routes and increased rail capacity. Keystone XL would mean more production sooner, which is evidenced by analysts giving oil sands producers higher valuations with Keystone XL.

However, as co-advisor Mark Fulton says, "KXL will improve revenues in the short-term which means that it will help catalyse new investment, more oil-sands production and additional greenhouse gas emissions."

This is confirmed by the Canadian government offering to offset these emissions, which further undermine Keystone XL’s economic benefit.

Access to More Capital

Keystone XL-enabled production will mean more revenues for oil sands producers, which will improve the market’s view of the value and creditworthiness of the companies. This will help them access capital, or reduce its cost, which will facilitate further investment in the oil sands, leading to more production and therefore more emissions. However, this in turn will put upward pressure on costs in Alberta, and soon exhaust the additional transportation capacity the pipeline would provide, further depressing prices.

Conclusion

Keystone XL constitutes a mirage that may tempt investment in greater production in search of higher margins, which are not likely to materialize without continued upward movement in oil prices. Keystone XL could provide some temporary relief to oil sands export constraints, which will stimulate the cycle of investment again, which either will lead to increased emissions or stranded assets in the future.

The analysis follows Carbon Tracker’s recent collaboration with CERES to co-ordinate a group of large investors to engage with companies on stress-testing their capital expenditure plans against a range of price and emissions scenarios. With the context of these considerations, Leaton notes that, "oil sands are high-cost, high-carbon projects, being proposed at a time when both costs and emissions are under pressure to shrink; as such they should immediately hit an investor’s higher-risk screen."

Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL and TAR SANDS pages for more related news on this topic.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!