Canadian oil and gas companies have collectively slashed at least $5.18-billion from their budgets for 2015, a figure that is expected to climb as the Alberta energy sector copes with the collapse of oil prices.
At least nine Canadian companies have rewritten their 2015 budgets since December. Collectively, the nine originally expected to spend around $21-billion in 2015, but have since axed their plans by 24 per cent, according to data collected by The Globe and Mail.
The withering budgets, along with mounting energy job losses, are bound to weigh on the Alberta economy and put financial pressure on the federal government and provinces across the country as royalty payments, income taxes and corporate taxes will be lower than expected. Alberta will be hit hardest, but even places like Newfoundland and Labrador will be pinched. Thousands of Canadians have been travelling to and from their home provinces for work and fat salaries in the west.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice on Wednesday warned the oil industry's woes would be felt across the country, and stressed the province needs to diversify its economy away from energy. The Premier on Tuesday blamed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the cartel powered by Saudi Arabia, for plunging global oil prices and the resulting damage in Canada.
"The circumstances that we are now dealing with are essentially driven by OPEC with a conscious choice to overproduce into a marketplace that is already oversupplied," Mr. Prentice told reporters in Edmonton Tuesday.
"There has been a conscious choice by OPEC to not intervene and just to allow market forces take their course," he said at a business luncheon Tuesday. "We're caught up in a circumstance not of our creation."
Oil prices rebounded Wednesday, but remain less than half of levels of last summer.
Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., two of Canada's largest energy firms, have both have ripped up their initial 2015 budgets. Suncor plans to spend between $6.2-billion and $6.8-billion in 2015, $1-billion less than its original intention, according to its revised budget released Tuesday. CNRL plans to spend $6.2-billion this year, down $2.4-billion from its budget released in November. Other companies that have cut their budgets include ARC Resources Ltd., Penn West Petroleum Ltd., Whitecap Resources Inc., MEG Energy Corp., Bonavista Energy Corp., Baytex Energy Corp. and Freehold Royalties Ltd. At least seven Canadian energy firms have cut their dividend since December, and another cancelled a planned increase.
The spending tumble at major firms such as CNRL must be put in perspective, argues Andrew Leach, the Enbridge Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Alberta School of Business.
"CNRL's [revised] 2015 budget is essentially back to what they spent in 2013," he said. Indeed, CNRL's 2013 budget anticipated spending of $6.9-billion. In the end, its 2013 capital expenditures, after accounting for asset sales, totalled $7.3-billion. The shrinking budgets in 2015 should also take pressure off the labour market and other variables will work in favour of the companies. "You just get more done for the same dollar. You end up spending fewer dollars to do the same thing."
Mr. Prentice's finger-pointing at OPEC must also be put in context. It comes as companies operating in North America continue to push the continent's energy production higher.
CNRL's first budget called for a production increase of around 11 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014. Now, it expects production to climb by 9 per cent, despite erasing 28 per cent of its original budget. Suncor's revised capital budget is 13 per cent lower than its original plan, but the company's production prediction did not budge. It plans to produce between 540,000 and 585,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2015. By way of comparison, it believes its 2014 production will ring in on the low end of its estimated range between 525,000 and 570,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day.
Cenovus Energy Inc., Husky Energy Inc. and Encana Corp. are three major Canadian firms that have not revised their 2015 budgets. Cenovus in December said it would spend roughly $2.5-billion to $2.7-billion in 2015. The company said it has the ability to cut between $400-million and $600-million this year.