Second-quarter earnings for many Canadian energy companies will be coloured by one major event: The wildfire that tore through the Fort McMurray region.
The massive blaze that began in early May took six weeks to be contained, forced the evacuation of 88,000 people from Fort McMurray, and cut oil sands production by about half at the disaster's peak.
According to analysts, the outages played a part in lifting global prices for oil to around $50 (U.S.) by the end of May, as well as lessening the discount paid for the bitumen blend of crude from Western Canada. But details about the specific impacts to individual operators will come out only with the second-quarter results – many of which will be released starting this week.
Although most oil sands facilities escaped the worst effects of the blaze, Canadian producers including Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd., Husky Energy Inc. and Athabasca Oil Corp. were impacted by shutdowns or reduced production, air-quality issues and precautionary evacuations.
"For individual companies, we don't know exactly what the production losses and costs will be," said Jackie Forrest, vice-president of energy research at ARC Financial Corp.
While everyone is aware the numbers will be substantial, there could still be some surprises, she said. For instance, additional costs for evacuations, production shut-downs, startups, and sheltering employees and even Fort McMurray evacuees will add up.
"I mean, you had some operators flying people who don't work for them out of the area," Ms. Forrest said. "It will be interesting to see if the costs are a bit higher than what people might have imagined."
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the Fort McMurray wildfire led to an average 800,000 barrels per day of supply disruption in May. On the worst days, the fire that swept through northern Alberta took as much 1.1-1.4 million in daily barrels offline, according to various estimates.
RBC Dominion Securities Inc. estimates that Suncor's production will be down 45 per cent, when the second quarter is compared with the first quarter. For Imperial Oil, the drop in the second quarter is predicted to hit 20 per cent.
Husky reported on Friday, saying that its total production for the second quarter fell 6 per cent to 316,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, compared with the same period in 2015, reflecting planned maintenance, reduced volumes from the Liwan gas project and production interruption at its steam-driven Sunrise oil sands project due to the Fort McMurray wildfires. Sunrise was restarted in June, Husky said, and production continues to ramp up.
At the same time, rising global oil prices as well as higher prices for heavy crude – skewed higher in part by the fire – benefited oil sands players. The EIA reported that along with rising oil demand and falling U.S. production, disruptions in Canada and other countries contributed to a month-over-month $5 U.S. per barrel increase in Brent spot prices in May.
FirstEnergy Capital Corp. said Canadian oil prices were up significantly compared to the first quarter. And the differential, the difference between discounted Western Canadian Select crude compared with the North American benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, narrowed in May as the fire raged. In June, the differential began creeping up as more oil sands production resumed.
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. might be one company best positioned to benefit from May and June's higher prices, with little in the way of a downside. The oil sands company had to fly out some workers in the early days of the disaster, but its Horizon site was distant enough from the fire that operations remained stable throughout.
"The Horizon oil sands project was not materially impacted by Fort McMurray's devastating wildfires," said RBC analyst Greg Pardy.
While the fire presented both losses and wins for oil sands producers, the impact was almost uniformly negative for natural gas producers.
Shutdowns in the oil sands meant that demand for significant volumes of natural gas in Western Canada disappeared overnight. Already depressed prices for gas plummeted. On one day in May, wholesale gas at the AECO storage hub in southeastern Alberta hit 48 cents per gigajoule, its lowest since 1985, according to FirstEnergy.
With the fire in the rearview mirror, investors are already looking out to the third quarter as oil sands production resumes and the effects of increasing production, with limited pipeline capacity, plays out in prices.
"Now as oil sands is coming back and a bit of Nigerian production has come back, that is one factor that has contributed to the $5 drop in price we've seen over the last two or three weeks," Ms. Forrest added.