“Environmental activism is becoming a new form of protectionism.”

This is worth reading:

An article from summer 2014 that explores how U.S. interests fund anti-oil environmentalist radicals to selectively target Canadian oil production as a roundabout protectionist strategy.

The Tar Sands Campaign pointedly ignores the dozens of tankers bringing foreign oil into the United States and Eastern Canada on a daily basis. Evidently, the only tankers this campaign opposes are those that would break the U.S. market’s monopoly on Canadian oil exports.

But in North Dakota and Texas where oil production is booming, there is no multimillion-dollar campaign to stop or slow down the oil industry. As far as I can tell, the only country where there is a systematic, multimillion-dollar, foreign-funded campaign to choke the oil industry is Canada.

Whether intentional or not, environmental activism is becoming a new form of protectionism. By exaggerating risks and impacts, activists exert such political and social pressure that major infrastructure projects can be stalled or stopped altogether, land-locking Canadian oil and gas and keeping Canada over a barrel.

— Read more at Alberta Oil Magazine

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Observations on the Royalty Review Panel Open House

In the following I will share the observations of a man who attended last night’s Royalty Review Panel Open House in Calgary, originally posted on Instaface or Facegram or whatever it’s called. This man is an entrepreneur in the Alberta oil industry, so it seems reasonable that he understands many of the underlying issues. His reporting rings true to me and it should deeply unsettle not just Albertans, but also the other Canadians who gobble up the transfer payments out of Alberta:

Well I went ahead and attended the Royalty Review Panel Open House in Calgary last evening to see what they had to say. They had lots of stand up displays with hundreds of factoids about supply, world prices, reserves and a whole bunch of other information most of us Albertans have known about for decades. Interestingly enough they had whiteboards for attendees to write comments, Trevor Marr took pictures and the attendees were hammering the government hard on the many points you’ve already posted, read, liked and shared on these pages.

I spoke and asked questions about the risk of engaging in a review at a time when prices are low and royalty revenues are already in full collapse. The Al Gore trained political hack, ATB CEO Dave Mowat did confirm that the government would be lucky to collect $3 Billion this year, down from $9 Billion last year. He couldn’t answer why if we were at $13 Billion prior to the last review and it contributed to a drop to $9B since and were now down at less than $3B, what good could possibly come from throwing two plus years of uncertainty into the mix now? He kept referring to how they were sure that they could OPTIMIZE the royalty rates. But no, the full report wouldn’t be shared with Albertans as a large portion of their process was so complicated it could only be done by 3 separate expert non public panels that they are hiring to work for a whole month. But the end result would be the best Royalty Rate system ever done and the OPTIMIZED recommendations would be provided to the NDP government by December 31st, 2015. He also said that since oil would be phased out over the next 20-30 years, it can no longer be viewed as a finite resource since we have more than will ever be able to be sold! He said the inability to get to markets wasn’t relevant to the rate structure! He also said if our oil wasn’t competitive in the world markets not having pipelines to those possible clients didn’t matter. He said it wasn’t their concern if other taxations such as corporate tax rate increases or carbon tax burdens were put on our oil and gas industry as they were only mandated to recommend a royalty rate structure that was based upon 4 core principles that could guide all the future rate reviews. He suggested that every two years or so they might want to adjust rates! He admitted that the $65 Billion in annual investment by the oil and gas industry was dependent upon both pricing and royalty competitiveness. He wouldn’t say how much lower the investment is this year nor how much investment might be withheld due to the not knowing what the rates are going to be. He couldn’t answer as to how long it might take the NDP government to implement their recommendations or even if they would.

I came away convinced that the whole process is a traveling Gong Show run by ideologues who are so enamored with their own intelligence that they actually believe that they can squeeze more revenue out of the resources that we own by performing a superb OPTIMIZATION of the rates. They have no concept of RISK. Dave Mowat declared that the USA is no longer a trusted customer, that they have become our biggest competitor and since they produce so much oil relative to our miniscule output, we cannot compete. I also spoke with Peter Tertzakian from the panel who accused the PC’s of not collecting enough over the past decades. He also had absolutely no concern that the revenues had fallen due to the low prices, he expressed a concern that Albertans weren’t getting enough revenue from the oil being sold with no concern that the O&G industry were operating at a loss as is!

In other words, much like Rachel’s NDP government, nobody on this Royalty Review Panel are prepared to Stand Up For Alberta! They do not understand risk management, product promotion, stability needs of large long term investment, spinoff benefits from capital investment, incentivization potential, access to tidewater ports and human cost impacts from reduced employment opportunities. We must redouble our efforts to wake them up. I got under their skin, Mowat tried to label me as smug but apologized when I called him out for attempting to assign a negative connotation on a brief facial expression I might have had while listening to another speaker grill him. Although someone in the back did holler that I should be the next Energy Minister. 🙂

Let me call attention to a few of the most startling comments here.

[Mowat] also said that since oil would be phased out over the next 20-30 years, it can no longer be viewed as a finite resource since we have more than will ever be able to be sold!

WHAT.

Dave Mowat declared that the USA is no longer a trusted customer, that they have become our biggest competitor and since they produce so much oil relative to our miniscule output, we cannot compete.

WHAT.

I also spoke with Peter Tertzakian from the panel who accused the PC’s of not collecting enough over the past decades. He also had absolutely no concern that the revenues had fallen due to the low prices, he expressed a concern that Albertans weren’t getting enough revenue from the oil being sold with no concern that the O&G industry were operating at a loss as is!

WHAT.

We shouldn’t be surprised by foolishness coming out of a Royalty Review Panel that is chaired by Al Gore fanboy Dave Mowat, but this is actually worse than I expected. If such considerations are guiding the panel’s recommendations, Alberta is in a lot of trouble.

The entire royalty review is based on asinine premises as demonstrated above along with the laughable pretense of caring what the public has to say.

Scary NDP Climate Change Survey Reveals Their Desired Policies

Members of Notley’s NDP government are global warming radicals. Remember that the global warming movement is not actually about science and global warming, which is why global warming fanatics disregard the mountain of evidence that refutes them. Global warming activists slavishly cling to junk science because they yearn for power where lawmakers, bureaucrats, and crony capitalists who favor socialism can gain control over the economy.

With that in mind, the government has released a fake survey regarding Alberta’s policies on climate change. It is fake because they really don’t care what anyone thinks. It’s like “you can choose any color you like as long as it’s red.”

(By the way, you don’t need to be an Albertan to take the survey.)

Basically, it is a rather unfair survey. It doesn’t really give you the option to reject all the proposals. Sure, it asks you whether you support more “government action” on climate change, but after that you only get loaded questions and the option to rank various dumb policies from most awesome to least awesome. So obviously the plan is to disregard any opinion where the respondent says they want no further government action on climate change, and just tally up results the rest of the survey and say “Such and such are the policies Albertans support the most!”

First it asks you whether you are worried about climate change. Well, despite all the chatter about it, no one really seems to be all that concerned about climate change to be honest. They care about it less and less with each year, and it’s at the bottom of their list when it comes to environmental issues.

global warming gallup poll

worriedagreatdeal

From there, each section starts with a preamble of deceptive, shallow propaganda. A large section of deception precedes the bulk of the survey:

The world’s climate has changed at an unprecedented rate since the 1950s. Increasing concentration of greenhouse gases have warmed the atmosphere, diminishing snow and ice, warming oceans, raising sea levels, and causing more extreme weather, such as floods and droughts. We can also see its effects locally through impacts such as the spread of the mountain pine beetle.

Scientific evidence tells us that – without significant action on a global scale – the consequences of climate change will be severe.

Even if all of this were true (it isn’t; global warming exists only in the minds of charlatans and cranks), it doesn’t follow that we can or should use the government to do anything about it. So the survey basically starts off with a big non sequitur and by lying to the respondent .

Then comes the craziness:

In advance of the conference, the Government of Canada has proposed a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. While Alberta’s energy-based economy helps fuel economic growth across Canada, we also account for approximately 37 per cent of Canada’s total emissions. The reputational impact of Canada’s action on climate change is likely to fall heavily on our province, which has already drawn domestic and international criticism.

This is really awful. The NDP is telling us that we should ravage the economy for the sake of our reputation among contemptuous and ignorant people — within and without Canada — who might not like us because we burn a lot of fossil fuels while we recover even more fossil fuels, supporting humanity with cheap energy which makes the modern world’s economy possible at all. At the same time, some people seeking power in the next federal election want to prevent Alberta from mining tar sands and burning fossil fuels in the process.

Slight detour: Regardless of any commitment Ottawa makes, there is no real constitutional authority for the federal government to interfere with a province’s resource development. The 1982 Amendments to the Constitution Act explicitly state the that the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over their non-renewable natural resources. Of course, as always with these matters, there are some loopholes. The federal government has jurisdiction over  “local Works and Undertakings declared by the Parliament of Canada to be for the Advantage of two or more of the Provinces.” That’s a problem. Plus, we had the National Energy Program regardless of any constitutional division of powers. So the Constitution Act doesn’t seem to be worth a damn. On the other hand, provincial governments have the constitutional right to do anything they want regarding the resources in their territories.

But anyway…

Then the propaganda tries to make us care about another climate change conference and fairy tale treaties:

In December 2015, the United Nations is hosting the Conference of Parties in Paris. The desired outcome is to create a binding treaty that will commit all nations to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

This is completely Irrelevant. These treaties never go anywhere. No one cares about them. There are no sanctions. The governments of the world never bothered to implement the Kyoto treaty of 1992 or its update in 1997. It lapsed on with the end of 2012. Game over. No one cares.

Then comes this nonsense:

Alberta’s energy economy depends on its ability to reach – and sell – our resources in markets throughout North America and around the world. These markets are increasingly demanding cleaner forms of energy. If we don’t take action on climate change locally, Alberta will find itself increasingly isolated and shut out of markets.

This is just wrong and sneakily misleading. When it comes to the environmental issue, opposition to the pipeline infrastructure stems from people, rightly or wrongly, being afraid of toxic substances flowing through the country in pipelines with the potential to leak out or spill and poison everything around them and kill everybody. It has nothing to do with climate change! Alberta can implement all the climate change policies it wants, but people will still have rational and irrational concerns about pipelines. Alberta’s efforts to access new markets for its products will not at all be helped by its abusive government’s bigger, badder climate change policies.

From there, the various agree/disagree questions reveal all the dream policies of the NDP. Question #14 is where it becomes obvious that they don’t care about your opinion. These are the things the NDP wants and it’s going to do them.

Now, thinking about the options discussed above, please rank them by priority with the highest being the action you would most like to see taken. Drag the choices into your preferred order, or use the arrow buttons to move the options up or down.

choices

So it asks you to rank a bunch of terrible policies that all belong in the “evil and uneconomical” category: an exploitative interprovincial cap n’ trade system, increasing taxes on industrial companies that burn fossil fuels, increasing subsidies to companies with political connections, increasing taxes on everyone, and subsidizing middle and upper class people who own buildings and houses.

You’ll notice it fails to include the option of “no further government intervention, thanks.”

Then in goes on to ask whether you support more horrible policies, including:

  • Redistributing money to favored municipalities and spending more money on government institutions for “retrofits”
  • Subsidizing homeowners (which tend to be middle or upper class people) with ‘incentives’ and grants (theoretically, incentives could include reducing taxes and regulations on more energy efficient technology — but who are we kidding? This is the NDP).
  • Subsidizing and protecting politically favored renewable energy producers.
  • Literally killing (or “phasing out,” as the NDP likes to say) an industry that some people don’t like. Don’t you love when the government decides who will be in business and who won’t be?

This is all quite terrifying. This tells us what the NDP wants. They just want to beat us over the head with fake survey results in a pathetic attempt to justify their destructive policies.

If you want bureaucratic control over the economy, inefficiency, unemployment, and impoverishment, you should support the NDP’s climate change policy.

If you want to subsidize India and China, where they don’t care about the bureaucratic rules and regulatory systems in Alberta, then you should support the NDP’s climate change policies.

If you want to get less energy and pay more for everything, then support the NDP’s climate policies.

If you are a good person, you should oppose them.

The Price of Oil and the State of the Economy

A large number of people have been asking me about the price of oil and what it means for the economy. Rather than just repeating myself all the time, I am writing this article.

SOME CLARIFICATIONS

I feel it is important to clarify how the law of supply and demand works, because I hear a lot of incorrect analysis from people who should know better. If you understand the law of supply and demand, I recommend that you skip to the next section.

Consider the following statement: “The price of oil is falling, and this is increasing the demand for oil — this will push the price of oil back up!”

This proposition is completely wrong.

Let me show you an ordinary supply and demand graph, like anything you will see in an introductory economics textbook.

supply and demand

The x-axis is quantity, and the y-axis is price. The intersection of the demand curve and the supply curve is where the market clears — everyone can buy the amount they want to buy, and everyone can sell the amount they want to sell. Simple enough.

Now consider the following graph, which depicts a change in demand. Specifically, it shows an increase — the demand curve shifts to the right (D1 to D2).

What is happening here? Demand has increased, and the price goes up. What is not happening here? The increase was not caused by a lower price — instead, it caused an increase in the price. The rise in demand is the cause, the rise in price is the effect.

We know for a fact that the price of oil has fallen dramatically in the second half of 2014. Why? Reduced demand, increased supply, or both?

Much of the world is in economic trouble. China is slowing. Japan is a mess. Europe is a disaster. When much of the world is in recession or heading for recession, we expect the demand for oil to fall. And even in the US, where the economy is stronger, oil consumption has fallen 8% since 2010 (there are many reasons for this, but I will not go into it here). So falling demand is a reasonable explanation for the fall in oil prices.

There is also the issue of increasing supply. OPEC is still pumping, business as usual, even though the price is down. Shale oil producers have been producing in a frenzy. There is a greater supply of oil.

Here’s what it looks like:

The graph shows an increase in supply (the supply curve has shifted to the right). The market clears at a lower price. Less supply (S1) has become more supply (S2). The quantity demanded goes from Q1 to Q2.

The price of oil has been falling in the second half of 2014. It fell very fast. Supplies have not increased much since June. This makes me believe that falling demand is the primary cause in this situation.

Now let’s look at a situation where there is “inelastic” supply (meaning it is not very responsive to price) and a fall in demand.

This is an extremely “non-price-sensitive” supply. The Saudi head of oil production has proclaimed that they will keep pumping even if the price drops to $20 a barrel. The other producers need money, so they will keep pumping. They cannot trim production and influence the price. The Saudis have considerable influence in on the supply-side of the market. That’s why the supply is inelastic.

Let’s return to the initial proposition we considered: the oil price is lower, so there will be increased demand for oil. This is bad analysis. Part of the problem is in the fact that “demand” and “quantity demanded” are often used interchangeably. But essentially it is mixing up the issue in the first and second graphs.

The price of oil is down.  The supply has increased. The demand has not increased — the quantity demanded at the new price is greater than at the higher price. This is not the same as saying a lower price of oil will increase the demand for oil. An increase in demand would — in the language of economics — imply a rightward shift of the entire demand curve.

A falling price does not increase demand, it increased quantity demanded. These things sound similar, but they are analytically different and this is important to understand at an elementary level.

Now with that boring stuff out of the way, let us look at the current situation with the price of oil and the economy.

SHALLOW CONSPIRACY THEORIES

I regularly speak with a lot of presidents and CEOs in the Alberta oil industry. A commonplace view is that price collapse is all the result of the Saudis pushing down the price of oil because [insert reasons here].

There are some amusing conspiracy theories floating around as well, particularly that which avers the US and its Saudi allies are manipulating the oil price to drive down the price of oil to hurt some evil countries, like Russia (America’s archenemy) and Iran (Saudi Arabia’s archenemy).

(I want to quickly point out that this is perhaps the only time in my entire life where people have complained about oil market manipulation driving the price… DOWN! Usually it’s greedy capitalists or crooked OPEC producers manipulating the market to drive the price UP to rip everyone off. But I digress.)

Realistically, how much of the blame rests on the Saudis? Maybe some, sure. But I don’t think it’s that much.

After all, how much does Saudi Arabia have to do with the price of steel, coal, and iron ore?

stell

How much do the Saudis influence the price of copper (which, by the way, is almost as much of a barometer for the world economy as oil)?

copper price

COMMODITY COLLAPSE

We see that oil is not the only commodity with a collapsing price. Maybe instead of market manipulation, it’s a sign that the global economy is not as strong as everyone had hoped.

The phony economic boom of the last two decades is slowing down, exposing what the Austrian business cycle theory refers to as “malinvestment.”

The distortion in commodity prices are the result of central banks collectively expanding their balance sheets from $5 trillion to $16 trillion in the last 10 years.

We also need to think about think about China, which has driven a great deal of the marginal demand for commodities in the last several cycles.

China’s radical growth levels were not going to last forever, and investors should have known better. But I guess that’s why they call it a “mania” and “irrational exuberance.”

China went from $1 trillion GDP to $9 trillion GDP in 13 years — an insane growth level that would be impossible but for printing press finance.

The incredible Keynesian-mercantilism started by Deng in the early 90s resulted in China’s demand for oil quadrupling from 3 million barrels per day to 12 million per day. Before then, the $20 price for a barrel of oil was, all things considered, was pretty much the same as it was 100 years when adjusted for inflation. Which makes sense given the basic balance of harder-to-get oil and improving technological methods over time.

The story is the same elsewhere. In the crackup boom phase of the cycle, iron ore prices hit 9x their historic range at the peak, and copper prices hit 5x their historic range.

copper iron

As with the other industrial commodities, there has been massive investment in petroleum production to feed the world’s unsustainable growth projections. Huge scale undertakings in the Canadian oil sands, US shale, and various deep-sea drilling projects, driven by these consumption forecasts and cheap credit, have resulted in major production increases. The bubble finance hype machine over the “Fracking revolution” in US shale led to a 4x increase in oil production with wells that would be uneconomical in a sane world.

So now there is too much oil production and not enough demand. The market needs to normalize, and that means the price of oil (and other commodities) needs to fall so sanity can be restored.

US shale in particular is a nasty bubble — the next “subprime” crisis.

North Dakota needs an oil price of around $55 per barrel at the wellhead and a fleet of about 140 rigs to sustain production at the current level of 1.2 million barrels per day, the U.S. state’s chief regulator told legislators on Thursday. . . . Breakeven rates for new wells, the level at which all drilling would cease, range from $29 in Dunn county and $30 in McKenzie to $36 in Williams and $41 in Mountrail. These four counties account for 90 percent of the drilling in the state.

Breakevens in counties on the periphery of the Bakken play, which have far fewer rigs, range up to $52 in Renville-Bottineau, $62 in Burke and $73 in Divide.

But Flint Hills Resources’ posted price for North Dakota crude was just $32, Helms said, compared with almost $49 per barrel for WTI. Wellhead prices, which are roughly an average of the two, are around $40 and have been falling since the start of this year.

Even before prices hit these minimum levels, drilling will slow sharply. The number of rigs operating in the state has already fallen to 165, down from 191 in October, according to the department. . . .

To keep output steady at 1.2 million b/d for the next three years, the state’s producers need a price of $55 rising closer to $65 in the longer term to support a fleet of 140-155 rigs.

Helms’ projections confirm North Dakota’s oil output will start to fall by the end of the year unless prices rise from their current very depressed level.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/09/bakken-oil-breakeven-kemp-idUSL6N0UO2QR20150109?feedType=RSS&feedName=rbssEnergyNews

Unlike conventional projects, shale wells enjoy an extremely short life. In the Bakken region straddling Montana and North Dakota, a well that starts out pumping 1,000 barrels a day will decline to just 280 barrels by the start of year two, a shrinkage of 72%. By the beginning of year three, more than half the reserves of that well will be depleted, and annual production will fall to a trickle. To generate constant or increasing revenue, producers need to constantly drill new wells, since their existing wells span a mere half-life by industry standards.

In fact, fracking is a lot more like mining than conventional oil production. Mining companies need to dig new holes, year after year, to extract reserves of copper or iron ore. In fracking, there is intense pressure to keep replacing the production you lost last year.

On average, the “all-in,” breakeven cost for U.S. hydraulic shale is $65 per barrel, according to a study by Rystad Energy and Morgan Stanley Commodity Research. So, with the current price at $48, the industry is under siege. To be sure, the frackers will continue to operate older wells so long as they generate revenues in excess of their variable costs. But the older wells–unlike those in the Middle East or the North Sea–produce only tiny quantities. To keep the boom going, the shale gang must keep doing what they’ve been doing to thrive; they need to drill many, many new wells.

Right now, all signs are pointing to retreat. The count of rotary rigs in use–a proxy for new drilling–has fallen from 1,930 to 1,881 since October, after soaring during most of 2014. Continental Resources, a major force in shale, has announced that it will lower its drilling budget by 40% in 2015. Because of the constant need to drill, frackers are always raising more and more money by selling equity, securing bank loans, and selling junk bonds. Many are already heavily indebted. It’s unclear if banks and investors will keep the capital flowing at these prices.

http://for.tn/1xLDxc9

I think long-term Canadian oil sand projects will have a stronger future, because they have more fundamental validity and less bubble finance hype (although there is some of that, of course). And while it it doesn’t seem like it to individual market participants, prices ultimately determine costs and so lower prices will push costs down. Rates of return in the market tend to equalize across different industries — there is not legitimate reason why people should forever expect above-market wages and investment returns in the oil business.

CENTRAL BANKS BACKING OFF?

Because I believe the Austrian business cycle theory is correct, I think China’s tightening of monetary policy has been a major factor here.

Likewise the Federal Reserve, with its 7x increase in the size of its balance sheet, culminating with a “taper” and proceeding into deflation mode following the end of QE3. That’s right, deflation mode. They did not just “taper” the rate of growth on the monetary base then hold it steady. The Fed actually sold off 10% of its assets starting in September before jumping back into open market operations with $250 billion in purchases. This kind of behavior is very disorienting for the market, with capital markets adjusting to money being sucked out and then pumped back in. But it helps explain the strengthening of the USD and the bloodshed in the commodities markets.

fed deflation

Then on Jan 15 came the Swiss National Bank’s surprise decision to end its foolhardy 1.20 EUR peg before Drahgi opened the ECB money floodgates. In its Keynesian desperation to diminish CHF purchasing power, the SNB’s balance sheet increased fivefold since the financial crisis and it amassed assets equal to 100% of the nation’s GDP — which is even more extreme than the insane BOJ, if you can believe it. With this development, the franc soared against the Euro and the US dollar and baffled everyone, even destroying a couple of FX firms overnight in one fell swoop.

Things will get crazy as some central banks tighten and others keep printing. These currency dislocations could lead to a currency crisis somewhere, but that is hard to predict. In any case, the insanity meter is in the red.

WHAT ABOUT GOLD?

Gold and oil often move together. And when the US dollar strengthens, gold usually weakens. But we are not really seeing this. Gold has been quite resilient amidst falling commodity prices and is performing well so far in 2015.

gold price

In this case, I’m not entirely sure what this means. On the one hand, it could indicate that a recession is less likely. On the other hand, it could indicate that investors are worried and are hedging against danger, like more aggressive central bank interventions.

CONCLUSION

The “correction” is healthy. It means reallocating resources to their most economical use. But it is painful — like a heroin addict going into detox.

It would be good for the world if oil went down to $20 a barrel and stayed there for 20 years, but I think the “peak oil” thesis is basically correct, and prices will rise again. We might not see a radical swing like in the 2008 crash, where we went from $37 back to $80 within the year.

The timing for all this depends on what happens in the recovery phase. Major readjustments need to occur. These adjustments could be brutal and quick, and the economy could resume a healthy course within a year, so long as the myriad governments take a “laissez-faire” approach. If governments impair economic adjustment with more taxes, spending, and inflation, we’ll just get a huge mess because the economy is straining against maximum debt levels and a huge bounce-back recovery a la 2008-2009 is not going to work this time.

So there you go. Prepare for some trouble. Hold cash.

A Billion Barrels of Bakken Oil: So What?

The headline says: “BAKKEN OIL FIELDS MARK BILLIONTH BARREL OF OIL.”

Wow, sounds impressive. But how impressive is it really?

oil consumption

The world consumes 87 million barrels of oil per day. A billion barrels of oil is merely 11.5 days worth of global oil consumption.

Well, okay, but that’s still pretty good, right? After all, 11.5 days of oil is 11.5 days of oil. But then we read:

Drillers first targeted the Bakken in Montana in 2000 and moved into North Dakota about five years later using advanced horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to recover oil trapped in a thin layer of dense rock nearly two miles beneath the surface.

Oh, darn.

In comparison, Alberta produces about 2.1 million barrels per day. That’s roughly a billion barrels every 16 months.

A billion barrels is just a drop in the bucket of world oil consumption, especially when you’re talking about production since 2005 and the oil is extremely challenging to actually get out of the earth.

— Read more at Yahoo News

European Union Wants to Tax Heavy Crude from Oil Sands

The European Union is falling apart. It is desperate for money. The bureaucrats in Brussels will tax anything they can.

Now the EU wants to modify its fuel quality directives, so that refiners who use oil that is “too dirty” (according to bureaucrats) must pay a tax.

Joe Oliver, the Natural Resource Minister of Canada, thinks this amounts to specifically targeted tax on Canadian oil-sands product. He says Canada will sue the EU at the World Trade Organization if they implement the changes, because the oil-sands crude isn’t any “dirtier” than many other crude imports which are not subject to the tax.

Firstly, let me note the hypocrisy when an official from Harper’s government whines about tariffs, while Harper’s government loves tariffs. “Oh yeah, taxing our stuff is bad; taxing your stuff is okay.” Typical government knavery.

On a more general level, yes the EU fuel quality directives and its associated penalties are bad for the economy. They are bad for Europe and bad for Canada. They reduce production of the taxed good and divert resources to government approved fuels. The government is in principle incapable of knowing to what extent a given quality of oil should be used.

Oil sands production is “dirty”, sure. The industry has a lot of flaws. Really, the CO2 emissions aren’t even a big deal, although that’s what everyone focuses on. But the environmental situation is still very screwed up, because Alberta is essentially a mini-petro-state. Property rights and laws of tort can rarely protect the environment because virtually all the pollution takes place on government land.

Even so, that is true of most oil. There is very little “clean” oil where you just turn on the tap and get light, sweet, succulent crude with minimal impact on the earth. Most of it is heavy and sour and difficult to get. Due to inept government regulation and interference with property rights, its production is environmentally problematic. So the European tax seems to be not just destructive, but arbitrary.

If the WTO agrees with Canada that the fuel directives constitutes an unjustified tax, they can’t force them to change it. It just means the Canadian government can put their own tariffs up to retaliate. That is bad for everyone. It would be better to just accept one dumb tax over which one has no controlnthan implement another dumb tax to go along with it. If the Canadian oil producer finds it harder to sell its oil, that’s already bad enough. Why should the Canadian consumer also be punished? It makes no sense, and only a politician or a shyster would advocate this.

Read more at Market Wire

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