By Peter McKenzie-Brown
For many peak oil believers, this is the scariest chart you can imagine. The blue lines show historical oil discoveries. The gold lines project discoveries into the future. The line that looks like a rising serpent shows annual production up to about 2005. The chart was created by peak oil guru Colin Campbell in 2004 for a deliciously ironic article titled "The Heart of the Matter". The chart looks like a road map to the Cracks of Doom, and it has been quite influential.
In this column I have frequently provided arguments in favour of peak oil theory, and I am an unabashed admirer of Campbell and his work. However, I believe this chart, though directionally accurate, is simplistic and alarmist. It needs to be nuanced. We can do that in three ways.
• First, note that the blue lines essentially track the world’s new-field discoveries of light and medium oil. The chart suggests that these volumes are the world’s oil reserves. It doesn’t nearly reflect the reserves additions that come through infill drilling, enhanced oil recovery and other standard oilfield practices. By applying simple math to the chart (subtracting production from discoveries), you will come up with world oil reserves far short of the roughly 1.2 trillion barrels that the Energy Information Agency and other authorities have booked.
As they are developed, most discoveries prove to be much bigger than the estimates at time of discovery. This is partly because reserves are a function of economics. When you find a new field you calculate its reserves based on present conditions and price forecasts – say, in 1970, $2.50 per barrel into the foreseeable future. As prices rise relative to costs, you will get more oil out of that field – of that you can be sure.
The thinking by which M. King Hubbert forecast the year of peak oil production in the United States was incredibly successful. What is rarely discussed, though, is that Hubbert underestimated by about 50 per cent the amount of oil that would be available in the US after it reached the peak. To a large extent this was because new reserves became available through changing technologies and more favourable petroleum economics.
• Second, give heavy oil, bitumen and oil shale the credit they deserve. Because of the nature of the beast, these unconventional resources are not booked as reserves until they become economically and technically producible.
Alberta’s huge oil sands are a classic example. In 2005 America’s Energy Information Agency booked Canadian oil reserves as second in the world (after Saudi Arabia) because of the impact of higher prices and improved technologies on the oil sands. If that amount of oil – 174 billion barrels (174 gigabarrels) – were added to the gold-coloured reserves lines on Campbell’s chart, it would require a line that would tower over the rest of the chart by a factor of three. Campbell’s methodology does not account for this kind of event. And in all likelihood, much more of the oilsands will eventually be booked as reserves.
That point takes me to this chart (click to enlarge), which is also from Campbell’s article. The black wedge – characterized as “Heavy, etc.” in the legend – is his estimate of the contribution of heavy oil to the global energy liquids picture. Eyeballing suggests that he expected these unconventional resources to be about 4.5 million barrels per day by now, world-wide.
Heavy oil, synthetic oil and non-upgraded bitumen represent about two million barrels of production per day in Canada alone, and Venezuela and Mexico are also big producers. What’s more, Canada’s oil industry is working hard to develop export markets for heavy oil, because there is a great deal more production yet to develop. Indeed, Canadian producers are selling their heavy oil at a discount because they cannot get it to world markets.
According to one excellent and credible report, seven years from now Alberta alone will be producing about three million barrels per day of “Heavy, etc.” That estimate risks production for economic and environmental obstacles, so it is probably low.
• Third – and this is my main point – let’s acknowledge that the serpent-like production line in Campbell’s chart, while it is not a happy sign, is not the spectre of doom it appears. The world’s unconventional resources will greatly blunt the blow – relative to the steep declines described in Campbell’s chart, in any event.
One amazing feature of the oil sands is their incredible energy density. Imperial Oil’s Cold Lake bitumen plant, for example, is a tiny dot on the map of Alberta, yet it produces 6 per cent of Canada’s oil. The resource density of these unconventional resources is immense, and that density is what makes it such an important resource. The world is heading toward capital-intensive, technology-intensive, pollution-intensive and energy-intensive energy - bitumen from Cold Lake, for example.
The greater the capital intensity, though, the lower the geopolitical risk must be. Keep that in mind when you consider development prospects for Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy oil belt, which is so huge it rivals the resources of Canada. The geopolitical risks in that country are enormous, so the likelihood is small that new Venezuelan supplies will soon hit world markets.
Strongman Hugo Chavez is increasingly unpopular in his own country, however, and the economy is in disarray. Oil production is in decline even though the the country has the largest conventional reserves in this hemisphere. Given that situation, it is possible to imagine a post-Chavez Venezuela which will develop those resources and become a resurgent supplier to the world. If that happened, it would lead to another super spike in booked reserves.
I share the view that a global Hubbert’s peak is nigh. The world is facing serious energy supply problems, and they are related to peak oil. To too great a degree, however, the discussion has failed to recognize the immensity and importance of the world’s unconventional sources of oil. Those vital resources will radically change the shape of the chart as they are plotted into it.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
By Peter McKenzie-Brown Until recently, there has been a constant refrain to the effect that Western economies seem undeterred by higher oil prices. Demand destruction does not seem to be taking place within OECD, even at today’s high numbers. The gist of the argument is that, compared to the situation in the 1970s, for example, oil is such a small part of GDP that the impact of energy prices is almost negligible. A lot of industrial demand destruction took place during previous periods of high prices, in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, it has been taking place through the outsourcing to emerging economies of oil-intensive manufacturing. The chart shows that in transport, where fuel costs are almost everything, these notions do not apply. The ratio of the Dow Transports to the price of oil, which you calculate by simple division, illustrates how profoundly the lowest oil prices of recent years (1997-1999) helped boost such transportation industries as railways, airlines, trucking and shipping. It also shows how negatively higher prices have affected transportation shares in the years since. Here is the same chart in less abstract form, displayed in terms of its two constituents. In this chart and the one above, the RSI (relative strength index) and MACD indicators apply to the transport index. Click on the charts to see them full size, or click here for updates on the charts used in this article. There is nothing particularly profound in pointing out that the transportation industries are strongly affected by higher oil prices. To use air travel as the most obvious example, fuel represents something in the order of 60% of its operating costs. To what extent is that affecting other parts of the economy? High energy costs are causing industry outside the transportation sector to find ways to cut per unit energy costs, and that is significant. Also, North Americans are buying more energy-efficient vehicles, but so far that has been more a trickle than a flood. However, this chart suggests what I think may be a coming sea change in North America’s energy consumption behaviour. Before you read my interpretation of this graphic, see whether you can figure out why. NYMEX gasoline futures have only been traded for four years. Since data is so limited, we have to be careful how we interpret this chart, which shows wholesale gasoline and oil price changes, and also indicates (vertical blue lines) America's driving season. When I look at this chart three things seem obvious. The first is that gasoline prices peak during the American driving season. That makes sense, since the summer months are the period of peak demand. My second observation is that peak gasoline prices during the driving season are higher than the relative changes in the price of oil by a considerable margin. The third is that wholesale prices are reaching new highs well ahead of the driving season this year, reflecting much higher crude prices. To my mind, all this suggests a steep spike in gas prices coming, and a change in the recent dynamics of crude oil's crack spread. We Canadians, who buy gasoline in litres, pay the equivalent of about $4.50 per gallon out of smaller per capita incomes. Even at those prices, we are paying barely half of most European prices. But our American neighbors are complaining about pain at the gas pumps with gasoline below four bucks a gallon. Will much higher gasoline prices this year finally cause them to begin changing their driving habits? I should think so. Perhaps, like Canadians, they will finally begin driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, drive less and so on. If so, that would be a good thing, and it would lead to continued crude oil demand destruction, although on a small scale. There is solid evidence for this in a number of areas. US gasoline inventories are at their highest levels since 1993, for example, and gasoline demand is trailing last year's level. (However distillate fuel inventories - diesel and heating oil - are lower than last year, especially in the Northeastern US market.) Will these developments lead to global demand destruction? Not according to an excellent commentary from Paul Hodges. Hodges acknowledges that demand in OECD countries is flat to declining. "The major influence is the weather. This year is seeing a mild winter, so demand will probably be down around 1mbd (million barrels per day)." However, he says, demand outside OECD is growing at around 1.6 million barrels per day per year.
This is focused on China (390 thousand barrels per day growth in 2008), Saudi Arabia (150 kbpd), other Middle East (330 kbpd) and India (140 kbpd). The common characteristic of all these areas is a relatively young population, growing incomes, and heavily subsidised oil product prices. There seems little chance of any of these factors changing in the next few years. Governments do not want to stir up social unrest by increasing domestic prices, and have no pressing need to do so as they all have healthy fiscal positions. 2008 is also likely to see a particular boost in China in the use of transportation fuels, due to the Olympics.
Monday, March 17, 2008
This long-term head-and-shoulders reversal suggests that the US dollar – measured against the currencies of its trading partners – has just begun a collapse toward the 40-point level. One of the most common reversal formations, the head-and-shoulders pattern offers a rough measure of how painful the coming move will be. From the time the pattern broke through neckline support (mid-year 2007), you can project the coming price decline. First, measure the distance from the neckline to the top of the head (41 points). Then subtract this number from the neckline (81) to derive the 40-point target. The only bright spot in the US dollar gloom is that, after the breakdown, head-and-shoulders patterns tend to return to the neckline before resuming their downward movement.By Peter McKenzie-Brown This is the third column in a series describing the relationships among the prices of gold, oil and other financial instruments. The first concluded, in part, that the price we are paying for gold is directly related to the price we are paying for oil, and that gold's fast-moving price reflects a rapidly deteriorating situation in the petroleum industry. The second column used technical analysis to show the inverse relationship between stocks and commodities. When you are in a bull market for stocks, commodities decline, and vice versa. In this third and final commentary, I want to use technical analysis again, but this time to show how the fall of the US dollar fits into the picture. The chart above shows the volatility of the greenback over the last 25 years. It also shows the very worrying head-and-shoulders reversal pattern, which developed during a 15-year period. Why is the US dollar in such deep doodoo? Let me count the ways: Recession; rising inflation; trade deficits; government debt; consumer debt; a credit crisis; a house-price crisis; a banking crisis; dependency on foreign oil; huge reserves in countries (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia) that have deep-seated issues with the US, and have recently been investing in other currencies to get better returns; US dollar outflows to invest in overseas assets; the shift of manufacturing and many services to overseas locations; an economy 70% dependent on consumer spending, which is drying up; a steady stream of interest rate cuts from the Fed. The blood-letting isn’t over yet, and that has important implications for both gold and oil. This chart shows how, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gold and oil prices tend to move counter to the value of the US dollar – the currency in which most international commodities are now priced. Following are a couple of even more dramatic pictures of the same thing. The two small charts factor in the relative value of the dollar directly. You can click on the charts to see them full-size, or view them and other graphics from this series, updated, by clicking here. The Partners Strike Back: These charts are based on a measure of the greenback known as the “trade-weighted” dollar, because it compares the US dollar to the basket of currencies – Euros, pounds, yen, Canadian dollars – used by America’s major trading partners. If the greenback is collapsing against those currencies, how will the trade-weighted partners respond? We Canadians would just love a rising loonie if all we wanted to do was buy real estate in the cratering US market. Our dollar has risen by about one third in US dollar terms in the last year, so American goods and services are much cheaper than they used to be. However, Canadian goods and services are now more expensive in the US, and that has made it much more difficult to sell to American buyers. The same is happening in the economies of East Asia and Europe. The rest of the world could respond to this dollar debacle in a couple of ways. One possibility is “competitive debasement” of national currencies. In this scenario, countries hurt by the falling buck would find ways to shore up the greenback by debasing their own currencies. Could that work? For a while, perhaps. However, as long as US dollar fundamentals are bearish, the American currency will continue to slide. As they say, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still be a pig. The world's multi-trillion dollar foreign exchange markets can only be fooled for so long. Another response to the declining dollar has already begun. Europe, Japan and China have begun a shift away from reliance on US consumption for their trade. For example, in 2000 30% of Japan's exports went to the US; last year it was only 20%. China now has more than 300 million middle class people with the savings to afford a good standard of living (think of the American dream 50 years ago), and they are ramping up consumption. Europe and China are each other’s largest trading partners, and the beat goes on. Can you think of any historical analogues to this situation? Perhaps the best is that of the British Empire, which began to lose its global dominance 90 years ago. Britain lost its reserve currency status as the US rather than England began to serve as the workshop of the world. Its financial power and military might soon followed. What country could be in a position to take over from the US? China? Could be. If you believe the flight to gold is a flight to value, safety and security during turbulent times, the following chart suggests that more big moves lie ahead. The chart shows two cup-and-handle formations since the famous gold spike of 1980. For technicians, cup-and-handle formations are among the most powerful indicators of upward movement. The green box shows the handle of a formation which developed between 1996 and 2005. After that handle broke upward, gold prices formed a second handle (blue box) which has now also broken upward. This extra-large cup-and-handle formation - 28 years in the making - is a powerful indicator of more upward movement to come. Remember: gold is a proxy for most commodities, so this pattern is also bullish for petroleum.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
This article was first published in Oilweek; graphic from this source.
With the latest UN conference on climate change relegated to history, Canada's oil and gas industry is now ready to focus on implementing some solutionsBy Peter McKenzie-Brown “Climate change is a serious threat to development everywhere”, said Rajendra Pachauri last November as he released technical reports prepared by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Today, the time for doubt has passed. (We have) unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity.” To make sure there was no doubting his message, he added that “slowing or even reversing the existing trend of global warming is the defining challenge of our age.” According to Pachauri, global warming will lead to melting icecaps and rising sea levels, the drowning of some island nations, the extinction of species, desertification of tropical forests and more frequent and deadlier storms. The world’s media soon became focused as never before on greenhouse gases (GHG) – the emissions (mainly carbon dioxide and methane) causing Earth to warm and its climates to change. The occasion was a United Nations conference meant to negotiate national targets for reducing greenhouse gases. The venue was the Indonesian resort island of Bali. The US, Canada, and Japan became villains in the piece as they argued that the targets of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol were unrealistic. To live up to that agreement would have required Canada, for example, to cut its GHG emissions by perhaps 50 per cent during the next 12 years. The three villains complained that Kyoto required nothing from emerging economies like China and India, which are big polluters. They and others also observed that, at the time of the original Kyoto discussions, science had little understanding of the impact on global warming of tropical deforestation. Deforestation amounts to destruction of some of the vital CO2 reservoirs often called “carbon sinks”. Factor in the loss of sinks from rainforest destruction and Brazil and Indonesia become the world’s third- and fourth -largest GHG emitters. Despite the sound and fury, Bali achieved little. It reinforced the global dread of carbon-induced climate change through the media, and the conference agreed to develop detailed plans for cutting emissions, with special focus on reforestation. When that is done next year, a convention of member states will negotiate GHG reduction targets in earnest – or such is the plan. Looking for Solutions: Given the glacial pace of implementing global treaties, the first steps in managing carbon emissions need to be taken locally. An industry of national and global importance, Canada’s petroleum sector can become a leader in taking those local steps. More to the point, a group of large players in the sector have already begun to do so through an initiative called the Integrated CO2 Network (ICO2N or, more simply, ICON) – a proposed system for the capture, transport and underground storage of carbon dioxide. But before reviewing ICON’s remit, let’s take a quick look at trends in pollution control. Just as today’s science says controlling these gases is environmentally critical, today’s higher-cost energy is combining with technological change and evolving policy to make it easier to reduce emissions. GWG reduction can take the form of finding non-hydrocarbon sources of energy. It can mean using technologies that produce fewer unwanted emissions. It can mean using lower-carbon fuels. The good news is that a great deal can be done, and in many different ways. For example, a tried and true way of reducing air pollution is to take old automobiles off the streets. Replacing those cars with low-pollution, fuel-efficient vehicles can increase the benefits. This is the idea behind a federal initiative which encourages Canadians to go green by offering rebates ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 to people who buy fuel-efficient vehicles. Sometimes newer technologies hark back to older times. For example, wind-assisted ships that use a computer-controlled, helium-filled kite to capture wind energy can reduce a vessel’s fuel consumption by 20 per cent or more. Fuel can represent as much as 60 percent of a merchant ship’s operating costs, so this innovation has high economic potential. Wind-assisted boats also produce less pollution, and in GHG terms this is no small matter. The world’s 50,000 or so trading vessels carry 90 per cent of global trade. Most fly flags of convenience, and their emissions are subject to little national control. In the matter of electricity generation, fuel switching – using natural gas instead of coal, for example – reduces carbon dioxide emissions by using a cleaner fossil fuel. It replaces an abundant fuel with a scarcer one, though, and is therefore not a sustainable long-term strategy. However, the Paris-based International Energy Agency says that emissions from coal-powered electricity generation can be reduced immediately, but also over the longer term. Cost-effective CO2 emissions reductions can be achieved almost immediately by burning coal with less waste. Long-term, carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers the potential for near-zero carbon dioxide emissions from coal-based power plants. “These strategies are complementary,” says the IEA report. “Deployment of modern, efficient coal-fired electrical generation technologies in the short to medium term can enable carbon capture for less cost in the longer term, if those power units are designed to enable cost-effective carbon capture retrofitting when that technology becomes available for commercial application.” Of particular importance to the petroleum industry, carbon reduction can involve warehousing greenhouse gases in depleted oil and gas reservoirs. It is in the arcane area of CCS that Canada’s petroleum industry can make a world-class contribution to the problem. Carbon Capture and Storage: What is carbon capture and storage? It involves capturing the carbon emissions from an electric utility or an oil sands plant and storing them, for example, in depleting oil fields. This is not new. Carbon dioxide has long been used for enhanced oil recovery, to urge incremental barrels out of elderly oil fields. One such project has been operating in the 50-year-old Weyburn oilfield in Saskatchewan for nearly eight years. The project uses a 330-kilometre pipeline to transport carbon dioxide captured at the Great Plains Coal Gasification plant, which manufactures methane from coal near Beulah, North Dakota. This project disposes of about 1.5 million tonnes of this greenhouse gas each year, and also keeps oil flowing from this aging field. At present, Weyburn is one of only three such projects in the world, all of them about the same size. The second is the BP-operated In Salah project in Algeria, where carbon dioxide extracted from the gas reservoir is removed and reinjected. This reduces pollution, but the injected gas also plays a role in maintaining reservoir pressure. The third is Statoil’s Sliepner project, in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. There, carbon dioxide extracted from gas production at the Sleipner West gas field is stored in a reservoir 1,000 metres below ground instead of being released to the air. In this project, injection is strictly a waste management practice. It does not assist in field production. Injecting carbon dioxide into old oil fields as a method of enhanced oil recovery could eventually help the petroleum industry add 1.2 billion barrels to conventional oil production in Alberta alone. This, at least, is the view of Suncor’s Stephen Kaufman, chair of the 16-member Integrated Carbon Dioxide Network (ICON). Using carbon dioxide from an industrial source for enhanced oil recovery is increasingly economic as energy prices rise. But can pumping GHGs into the ground be economically viable if it isn’t being done for a commercial purpose? According to Kaufman, this is the sticking point. “There is no value chain for CO2 capture,” he says. “It is extremely difficult from a pure market standpoint to make it profitable.” The ICON consortium of mostly blue chip companies with Alberta operations wants to develop a national greenhouse-gas collection, pipeline and storage grid with roots in the Alberta oil industry and branches across the country – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia (see map ). In the beginning, the network would capture carbon dioxide from sources in north-central Alberta, including Fort McMurray, Fort Saskatchewan and the coal-fired power plants near Wabamun Lake. The carbon dioxide would be transported by pipeline to suitable geological sites for storage and to EOR loranios- for sale to oil producers. About 1,000 kilometres of main pipeline and 400 kilometres of small collector lines would ultimately be needed for this system, which would be built up over a decade or more. Longer term, carbon-capture could be done elsewhere in Canada, which has suitable geologic storagic basins in nearly every province and territory. In effect, ICON is proposing a vast network of waste treatment facilities, and the industry believes sharing of the costs of this network with energy consumers is appropriate since “it is more difficult and more expensive for consumers to make emission reductions directly.” Noting that Canadians will be facing “increasingly stringent carbon regulations”, Kaufman says those regulations are going to force energy consumers of all types to find ways to reduce net emissions. “GHG emissions result from making fossil fuels, power and manufactured materials that benefit all Canadians. The consumer will have to pick up a share of the tab for clean-up.” If not exactly profitable, these developments will make ICON viable. “We are very interested in starting this system off”, Kaufman says. “The first GHG injections could go into storage in 2013”, he adds, stressing that the project is ambitious and the “hurdles are very substantial.” However, it “could represent perhaps the largest single carbon-dioxide reduction approach Canada takes until renewables, alternative fuels and energy conservation become very significant.” Also known as carbon sequestration, CCS has been a topic of many reports in recent years. “When it’s not commercial to do something,” Kaufman points out, “you tend to do a lot of study. We need these technical and economic reports, and eventually we will also need public input. People need to be sure this can be done safely.” Most importantly, though, “We are looking for the right way to move this concept forward. Our first objective is to contribute to policy – it will need provincial and federal legislation to make this happen.” The right policy will include a cost- or risk-sharing formula, clear greenhouse-gas emissions rules and government commitments to reassure ICON that the policy will not change during the one to two decades needed to develop the carbon disposal grid. Long-term policy commitments will encourage new oil sands and power plants and other large, GHG-intensive facilities to invest in carbon capture technologies during construction, so they can connect to the system when they go on stream. Kaufman believes tax incentives will also be needed, as will carbon disposal credits. Carbon credits “will need to be as widely tradable as possible, so we can develop an efficient market”. For example, an Ontario industrias producer with a GHG emission problem could pay to capture and store carbon in Alberta, thereby using tradable credits to meet local emission regulations. This approach reflects an environmentally acceptable exchange of value. After all, global warming is a planet-wide problem precisely because carbon dioxide respects no boundaries. No matter where they take place, GHG reductions benefit everyone. From the perspective of economic efficiency, it is important to reduce emissions wherever it is cheapest. The tropical paradise of Bali may be far from Alberta’s main centres of industrial GHG pollution, but in the big picture of energy-induced climate change there is an ironic link between the two. ICON illustrates how Canada’s oil patch could take a leadership role in mitigating the causes of global warming – and do so without waiting for the diplomats.
Who Pays the Bill? After the UN released its report on global warming, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made climate change a central feature of his term of office. “Galvanising international action on global warming” he said, “is one of (my) main priorities.” Such a commitment at the highest levels is essential. After all, air pollution doesn’t respect international boundaries. Nations routinely outsource emissions to other jurisdictions. Decision-makers often focus on short-term profits and near-term political interests. In that context, Ban’s commanding affirmative raises some fascinating interrogatives. If the consumer must pay, how should global traders charge for GHG emissions? Will transnational customers actually pay? What’s the best way to enforce international treaties with countries whose domestic poverty trumps their environmental goodwill? Should rich countries simply pay the cost of cleaning up GHG waste in poor countries, since that is often the cheapest and simplest way to reduce emissions? Can accelerating global energy demands be met without use more and dirtier hydrocarbons? Such questions illustrate the complexity of the problem. Take the oil sands. Oil sand development illustrates the “blackening” of the barrel of oil – the shift from higher-grade reserves to lower-quality, higher-carbon resources that are more expensive to produce. Twenty-five years ago, US customers for Canadian oil generally processed light to medium crude. Those refineries have since been modified to process heavy oil and oil sands production from Canada. Much of that oil is upgraded, but upgrading commands a stiff carbon price. To produce synthetic oil from bitumen requires a lot of heat, much of it generated from natural gas. The synthetic oil we export is responsible for much more GHG pollution than was the light oil of yesteryear. Oil sands production generates three times the carbon emissions created by the production of conventional oil. The same logic applies to refined products. Canada’s net annual exports of gasoline, diesel and such to the United States amount to about 500,000 cubic metres – about 3.4 million barrels of product. Again, refining is energy-intensive, with the corresponding carbon price we have to pay. Canada's GHG Ledger Consider the Canadian GHG ledger. The fuels we use to produce synthetic oil and refined products for U.S. markets amount to an outsourcing of carbon emissions from the United States. Outsourcing CO2 production to Canada in this way lowers per capita GHG emissions produced by Americans but increases those ascribed to Canadians. Of course, this sword cuts many ways. Finished goods from China arrive in Vancouver by the container load, but none of the pollution generated in Chinese plants and factories enters Canada’s environmental ledgers. It was, after all, produced in Asia. If Canada’s pollution ledgers accurately reflected the pollution generated by the products we consume (and fully offset all those we export), Canada’s CO2 emissions would probably be higher than they are. Canadians would still not be the world’s biggest per capita greenhouse gas polluters, though. Honours in that competition go to Australia and the United States, respectively; Canada only gets the bronze. The main cause of our high GHG emissions is Canada’s hydrocarbon consumption – at 8,300 kilograms of crude oil equivalent per person per year, the highest in the world. If that crude oil equivalent were bottled water, at 2.2 litres per day it would take a person ten years to drink it all. By using them for fuel instead of hydration, those hydrocarbons provide us with mobility, power and heat, each of which bears an environmental cost. Every transaction involves a measure of energy produced and then consumed. And as we consume energy – by trucking goods, extracting resources, manufacturing products and turning up the thermostat, – we create greenhouse gases. We live in a big country, so transportation – often in cold weather, when fuel efficiency drops – is a big part of the economy. Nationwide, about 25 per cent of our GHGs come from our trucks, trains, airplanes and, especially, our cars. Commerce, residential fuel consumption and industry (excluding oil and gas) account for 24 per cent of the total, but much of those emissions come from equipment (mining trucks, front-end loaders) that don’t get recorded in the transportation ledger. Another 14 per cent come from non-energy sources. The rest come from the production and manufacture of energy and power. As Canada creates targets for GHG reductions, policymakers will zero in on the three areas – transportation, electricity generation and fossil fuel production – in which the greatest reductions are possible. Together, these activities account for nearly two thirds of Canada’s greenhouse gases. Efficiencies can be found there. Will Canada’s pollution actually decline? Not according to Canada’s Energy Outlook, a Natural Resources Canada report on the matter. NRCan estimates that Canada’s GHG emissions will increase by 139 million tonnes between 2004 and 2020, with more than a third of the total coming from petroleum production and refining. Upstream emissions will decline slightly, primarily from gas field depletion and from increasing production of coalbed methane, which requires less processing than conventional natural gas. Meanwhile, emissions from unconventional resources and refining will soar. Assume these forecasts are accurate, and that in 2020 Canada’s GHG waste will be half again as large as it was in 1990. Assume also that, as the UN’s Rajendra Pachauri thundered to his audience last November, “slowing or reversing the existing trend of global warming is the defining challenge of our age!” Where do we go from here?
This article originally appeared in Oilweek; photo from The Calgary Herald
In a career that has yet to span two decades, Tristone Capital founder George Gosbee is a shining activist for better business and better politicsBy Peter McKenzie-Brown George Gosbee is an unusual mix of builder, campaigner and populist, and from any of these perspectives he seems to be on the leading edge. Tristone Capital Inc. is his foundation, and it is probably corporate Alberta’s greatest recent success story. Despite his high-profile participation on provincial boards, he has been a leader in the industry campaign against the Alberta’s recent royalty regime change. And as an observor of social change, he has recognized the growing strength of political populism and has set up a firm that he believes will become a leader in the field. Builder: When Gosbee enters the room, he brings a lightning-sharp mind and a strong command of numbers and issues. He also brings an engaging personality and takes control of the interview – in an unassuming way, of course. It’s a pleasure to do business with him, and that is certainly one of the factors behind his remarkable success. At 38, his credentials are a running commentary on what his kind of energy can create during quite a short career. He is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Tristone Capital, the largest oil and gas property acquisition and divestiture business in the world. When he sold Tristone in 2003, the Globe and Mail called it the “deal of the year” because of the high sale price: $101 million in cash and stock. Eighteen months later, he bought back the enlarged company for an undisclosed sum. A 1992 graduate of the University of Calgary, Gosbee began his career with merchant bank Peters and Co., where he was appointed managing director in his mid-twenties. He moved to Newcrest Capital for a couple of years, and then began to create Tristone. “I founded Tristone in 2000 because I saw the opportunity for a better type of banking firm,” he recalls. “I recognized that there was a lack of confidence among oil companies dealing with bankers that were not global or technical. I formed Tristone with the mandate of being a technical global banking firm, which was rare.” The company has three components (the “tri” in its name): property acquisitions and divestitures, investment banking and capital markets. “We were the first firm to combine oil and gas property acquisitions and divestitures with investment banking.” “It’s a client-driven strategy”, Gosbee says. “Our clients wanted bankers who knew what was going on under the ground and around the world.” And that’s what Tristone quickly came to provide. Now the world’s largest independent energy advisory firm, Tristone has more than 150 employees, of whom more than 40 are engineers, geologists and geophysicists. It has offices in London, Calgary, Houston, Denver and Buenes Aires. Tristone has seats on three major stock exchanges, does research on 72 petroleum-producing basins, and has 20 datarooms to facilitate property sales. “In any one week, we have $1-2 billion worth of properties for sale.” Tristone’s spectacular successes reflect Gosbee’s exploitation of an important trend in the petroleum industry – one that became increasingly clear in the 1990s. Briefly, acquisitions have become a critical form of reserves replacement. The industry can’t replace reserves by the drill bit anymore, so the number of transactions in the sector has become easily the largest on the planet. “Pharmaceutical companies don’t have to acquire the assets of other companies to stay in business,” Gosbee says, “and neither do other kinds of companies. Oil companies are the exception. They have to.” Campaigner: After the change of premiership in Alberta at the end of 2006, the new government under Ed Stelmach offered him two important appointments – both of which he accepted. He was asked to sit as a board member on Alberta’s Economic Development Authority. Created by former premier Ralph Klein, the authority describes itself as “a partnership that provides businesses with a direct working link to the Alberta Government. A network of business and industry sectors made up of private sector volunteers work with government to attract investment, promote the Alberta Advantage and help generate more wealth and employment for Alberta.” More importantly, premier Stelmach also invited Gosbee to serve as vice chairman of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation. (Toronto-based TD Bank’s Charles Baillie is chairman.) A Crown corporation with more than $70 billion of Alberta’s assets under management, the newly formed entity is one of the largest public sector asset managers in Canada. “This is rather exciting,” Gosbee says with characteristic understatement. “Not a lot of people get to have the experience of helping create a Crown corporation.” Notwithstanding the government’s evident confidence in him, when Alberta’s Royalty Review Panel released its report last September, Gosbee helped lead the charge against it. This was his latest campaign, and the one with the highest profile. “I wrote a letter to the citizens of Alberta and put it in 17 newspapers around the province,” he says. “There is an opportunity for increased royalties, but the math is wrong. We can’t make this kind of decision on faulty math.” He adds, “I dumped on the panel’s report and I dumped on the process and I dumped on the result. It seems as though the people of Alberta are now taking the oil and gas industry for granted. I think we’re in a dangerous situation.” Strong words, but he backed them up at a news conference (more than 25 reporters were present) at which he provided Tristone’s thinking about why the formulas are wrong. “Yes,” he says, “I was upset with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to continue working with (the government) and the premier in trying to come up with solutions to the unintended consequences of what they have done. I think the government respects my comments because we can back them up with our team’s research.” In Gosbee’s view, the most important failing of the Royalty Review Panel was its impact on natural gas, which he calls the province’s economic driver. “If you mess with the economic driver of this province, then we’ve got a mess on our hands. The general public didn’t know about it. Even the premier didn’t understand it.” Now he rolls out the statistics. “About 64 percent of Alberta’s royalties come from natural gas, and five percent of the gas wells – the deeper wells – account for 64 percent of the gas royalties paid. Now we have a problem on our hands. The (deeper) gas wells are marginally economic at today’s gas prices, and those recommendations (scheduled to come into effect at the beginning of 2009) are going to make them uneconomic.” In a research paper, Tristone points out that a tiny two percent of the province’s oil and gas wells account for 40 percent of provincial royalties. When Gosbee began his campaign against the fiscal changes, many newspapers put it down to self-interest. The irony is that the opposite is true; the new regime offered a lot of near-term opportunity for Tristone. “M&A (merger and acquisition activity) is going to be great this year. If the government hadn’t done anything, it would have been status quo for us, but we will actually benefit from increased numbers of transactions. October 25th (the day the Alberta government acceded to the panel’s recommendations) was a record trading day for Canadian oil and gas equities, with Canadian equities falling off 30 percent compared to the American companies. There is a global bull market in energy, and institutional investors didn’t want to be out of it. They just wanted to be out of Canadian energy stocks. And that’s mostly because of government decisions.” Populist: In university, Gosbee says, “(I realized) that I didn't want to sit back and wait for opportunities. I wanted to create them.” It shows. An avid skier, runner, rock climber and golfer, Gosbee owns (with Precision Drilling’s Hank Swartout) a heli-skiing company in the Rockies. With his wife, Karen, he founded an athletic wear company called Cura. He also co-founded a company with a subtle but more vital purpose. Mass LBP (“led by people”) is a new public policy company, based in Toronto. “Governments aren’t like they used to be 20 or more years ago,” he says. “Governments now rely more on popular opinion. We have a different type of politician now, people who rely on popular opinion, and it’s the process of how to consult that is the problem. So I got together with some leading academics in Toronto to discuss how governments are going to make decisions and come up with a better way to make these decisions, taking into account public perception and what’s best for the public.” The result was Mass LBP which, according to its online prospectus, “is reinventing public consultation.” Advertising the importance of “a seat at the table, a hand at the wheel and a turn at the mic(rophone),” the company claims to help governments, corporations and not-for-profits make decisions and set priorities that enjoy public understanding and popular support. “I’m pretty passionate about that, too,” says Gosbee, adding that populism is on the rise across the continent. “We had a situation in Alberta where the politicians and the population and the industry all wanted to change the oil sands (regime). How did we screw it up so badly? Why did we go after (the driver of) our provincial economy, which is natural gas? There needs to be change. As Canadians we need to find new and better decision-making.” Asked about his philanthropic interests, Gosbee says only that he and spouse Karen donate mostly to the organizations they are involved with. However, he stresses the importance of giving back to the community. Chairman of the board for the Alberta College of Art and Design, he also sits on the boards of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and Calgary’s private Edge School, which now has a $49 million school under construction. The Edge School, which trains student-athletes in both sports and academics, seems particularly close to his heart – perhaps because of his love of sports. “I’m a big believer that life is a partnership. Team sports like those at Edge school give you (a sense of partnership). So if you can grow up in that environment you’re better prepared for the future.” The oldest of his children, John (age 13), is already studying at the Edge. The others – Carter (10) and Isla (6) – will attend when they reach sixth grade. Gosbee’s on a roll now. “You’re a partner with your spouse, with your kids. You’re a partner with your community, with your business.” He stresses that 80 percent of Tristone’s employees are shareholders in the company, which is held privately; only employees can own company stock. There are perhaps 25 “senior partners” at Tristone, he says, “but we consider all our shareholders to be partners.” Yes, he’s a populist in business, too.