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Completing Trans Mountain, Indigenous LNG: What to watch in Canadian energy in 2024


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Workers lay pipe during construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on farmland in Abbotsford, B.C., on May 3, 2023. CP Images photo

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Deborah Jaremko

Activity promises to highlight Canada’s position as a world supplier of choice

It’s going to be a big year for Canadian energy, with major milestones anticipated that will transform Canada from a supplier with a single customer (the United States) to a global player.  

Global demand for oil and gas is expected to stay strong in the decades ahead as the world works to reduce emissions, still supplying nearly half of energy needs in 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.  

Activity in 2024 promises to highlight Canada’s position as a supplier of choice with a leading approach to reducing emissions and engaging Indigenous communities.  

Here are five things to watch.  

5. Start-Up Activities for LNG Canada 

Construction of the LNG Canada export terminal is now more than 90 per cent complete. Photo courtesy LNG Canada

Against the backdrop of surging liquefied natural gas (LNG) demand – Asia’s consumption hit a record 26.6 million tonnes in December – Canada’s first LNG export terminal is preparing for start-up. 

LNG Canada will have among the world’s lowest emissions for LNG supply, at 0.15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of LNG, less than half the global average.  

This year, the terminal at Kitimat, B.C. will test and fine-tune equipment and the process of producing LNG will begin, the company says.  

The start-up program will take more than one year to complete.  

Moving into the final stages at LNG Canada follows the recent completion of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, connecting natural gas supply from northeast B.C.  

4. Progress Toward Oil Sands Net Zero 

The Pathways Alliance has extensive work underway on the environmental program for its proposed CCS project, involving 135 experts ranging from aquatic and wildlife biologists to archeologists and paleontologists who have spent more than 1,600 hours in the field working to minimize environmental disturbance. Photo courtesy Pathways Alliance

Major regulatory applications are expected in 2024 for one of the world’s largest proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) networks, located in Canada’s oil sands.  

The project would connect CO2 captured at an initial 14 oil sands facilities by pipeline to a shared hub for storage deep underground.  

It is the foundation of the plan by the Pathways Alliance – companies representing 95 per cent of oil sands production – to reduce emissions from operations by nearly one third by 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050. 

Pathways has said that after regulatory approvals are complete, CO2 injection and storage could begin by late 2026.

3. Growth in Indigenous Ownership

Eva Clayton, back left, President of the Nisga’a Lisims Government (joint venture owner of the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG project), Crystal Smith, back right, Haisla Nation Chief Councillor (joint venture owner of proposed Cedar LNG project), and Karen Ogen, front right, CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance pose for a photograph on the HaiSea Wamis zero-emission tugboat outside the LNG2023 conference, in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, July 10, 2023. CP Images photo

The rising tide of Indigenous ownership in Canadian energy is likely to continue growing in 2024.  

From LNG terminals to oil and gas pipelines, natural gas-fired power plants and CCS projects to reduce emissions, more Indigenous communities are taking on a leadership role. 

Since 2022, more than 75 First Nations and Métis communities in Alberta and British Columbia have agreed to ownership stakes in energy projects including the Coastal GasLink pipeline and major oil sands transportation networks.   

Indigenous loan guarantee programs like those offered by the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) are helping communities invest.  

So far, the AIOC has underwritten more than $500 million in loan guarantees. This year it has $3 billion of support available, up from $2 billion in 2023.  

Details of a proposed national loan guarantee program to help facilitate Indigenous equity ownership in major resource projects are also expected in the federal budget this spring.

2. Green Light for Cedar LNG 

Rendering courtesy Cedar LNG

Owners of the world’s first Indigenous-led LNG project – a floating terminal at Kitimat, B.C. –plan to make the final decision to proceed within the next three months 

Cedar LNG, owned jointly by the Haisla Nation and Pembina Pipeline Corporation, would have capacity to export three million tonnes of LNG per year, primarily to Asian markets.  

With emissions intensity of 0.08 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of LNG, it would be one of the lowest carbon footprint LNG projects in the world.   

In early January, the partners reached the critical milestone of selecting the primary contractors to engineer, build and deliver the floating LNG unit.  

A final investment decision is now expected in the first quarter of 2024. 

1. Completion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion 

Worker at Trans Mountain’s Edmonton terminal. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

After more than 12 years in the making, Canada’s first large-scale access to growing global oil markets is now weeks away from completion. 

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline system from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. runs consistently at maximum capacity with producers seeking more export space than is available.  

The expansion will increase service by about 600,000 barrels per day, bringing more Canadian oil to customers around the world, primarily on the U.S. west coast and Asia.  

After the recent resolution of a regulatory delay, Trans Mountain can now proceed with the last two per cent of construction.  

The company anticipates oil will flow on the expanded line before the end of March.  

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Start-up of Trans Mountain expansion ‘going very well’ as global buyers ink deals for Canadian crude

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A worker at Trans Mountain’s Burnaby Terminal. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Deborah Jaremko

Chinese refiner pays about US$10 more for oil off TMX compared to sales value in Alberta

Canada’s oil sands producers are “back in the limelight” for investors following completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, according to a report by Enervus Intelligence Research.

For the first time in the better part of a decade, there is now breathing room on the system to ship all of the oil producers are able to sell off the coast of B.C.

Up until this May, Trans Mountain was regularly overbooked. Not anymore.

The crude carrier Dubai Angel picked up the first shipment from the long-awaited expansion on May 22, setting sail for China and a customer of oil sands producer Suncor Energy.

Analysts estimate Trans Mountain loaded 20 vessels in June, compared to a pre-expansion average of five per month.

“You’re seeing multiple buyers. It’s going very well,” said Phil Skolnick, managing director of research with New York-based Eight Capital.

“You’re seeing the exact buyers that we always thought were going to show up, the U.S. west coast refineries and as well as the Asian refineries, and there was a shipment that went to India as well.”

The “Golden Weld” in April 2024 marked the mechanical completion and end of construction for the Trans Mountain expansion project. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

Canadian crude in demand on the global market

Asian markets – particularly China, where refineries can process “substantial quantities” of extra heavy crude and bitumen – are now “opened in earnest” to Canadian oil, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its June Oil 2024 report.

“There’s demand for this crude and people are going to make deals,” said Kevin Birn, chief analyst of Canadian oil markets with S&P Global.

The IEA said Canadian crude will increasingly compete with heavy oil from other countries, particularly those in Latin America and the Middle East.

June’s loading of 20 vessels is slightly lower than the 22 vessels Trans Mountain had targeted, but Skolnick said a few bumps in the project’s ramp-up are to be expected.

“About three months ago, the shippers were telling investors on their calls, don’t expect it to be a smooth ramp up, it’s going to be a bit bumpy, but I think they’re expecting by Q4 you should start seeing everyone at peak rates,” Skolnick said.

Delivering higher prices

Trans Mountain’s expanded Westridge Terminal at Burnaby, B.C. now has capacity to load 34 so-called “Aframax” vessels each month.

One of the first deals, with Chinese refiner Rongsheng Petrochemical, indicates the Trans Mountain expansion is delivering on one of its expected benefits – higher prices for Canadian oil.

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office has said that an increase of US$5 per barrel for Canadian heavy oil over one year would add $6 billion to Canada’s economy.

The June deal between Rongsheng and an unnamed oil sands shipper saw a shipment of Access Western Blend (AWB) purchased for approximately US$6 per barrel below the Brent global oil benchmark. That implies an AWB selling price of approximately US$75 per barrel, or about US$10 more than the price received for AWB in Alberta.

Expanded export capacity at the Trans Mountain Westridge Terminal. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

More pipeline capacity needed

Oil sands production – currently about 3.4 million barrels per day – is projected to rise to 3.8 million barrels per day by the end of the decade before declining slightly to about 3.6 million barrels per day in 2035, according to the latest outlook by S&P Global.

“Despite the recent completion of the Trans Mountain Expansion project, additional capacity will still be needed, likely via expansion or optimization of the existing pipeline system,” wrote Birn and S&P senior research analyst Celina Hwang in May.

“By 2026, we forecast the need for further export capacity to ensure that the system remains balanced on pipeline economics.”

Uncertainty over the federal government’s proposed oil and gas emissions cap “adds hesitation” to companies considering large-scale production growth, wrote Birn and Hwang.

Global oil demand rising

World oil demand, which according to the IEA reached a record 103 million barrels per day in 2023, is projected to continue rising despite increased investment in renewable and alternative energy.

June outlook by the International Energy Forum (IEF) pegs 2030 oil demand at nearly 110 million barrels per day.

“More investment in new oil and gas supply is needed to meet growing demand and maintain energy market stability, which is the foundation of global economic and social well-being,” said IEF secretary Joseph McMonigle.

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Canadian Energy Centre

What’s next? With major projects wrapping up, what does Canada’s energy future hold

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From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Mario Toneguzzi

‘This is the first time Canada will enter the global marketplace as a global player, so it is an incredibly important change for the industry’

With the recent completions of the Trans Mountain expansion and Coastal GasLink pipelines, and the looming completion of LNG Canada within the next year, there are few major energy projects with the green light for one of the world’s largest and most responsible energy producers.

Which leaves a lingering question: In a world that has put a premium on energy security, what’s next for Canada?

Heather Exner-Pirot, a senior fellow and director of the natural resources, energy and environment program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Natural Resources Canada’s major projects inventory “has been in a pretty sharp decline since 2015, which is concerning.”

“It’s not just oil and gas but also mining, also electricity . . . It’s the overall context for investment in Canada,” said Exner-Pirot, who is also a special adviser to the Business Council of Canada.

“When we look at BC, we see TMX, Coastal GasLink, very soon LNG Canada will be finishing up. That’s probably in the order of $100 billion of investment that that province will lose.

“So you do start to think about what happens next. But there are some things on the horizon. I think that’s part of it. Other LNG projects where maybe it wasn’t politically popular, it wasn’t a social license, and maybe the labour force was also constrained, and now is opening opportunities.”

recent analysis conducted by Exner-Pirot found that between 2015 and 2023, the number of energy and natural resource major projects completed in Canada dropped by 37 per cent. And those that managed to be completed often faced significant delays and cost overruns.

One notable project Exner-Pirot expects to fill the void is Ksi Lisims LNG, which is being developed on the northwest coast of Canada to export low-carbon LNG to markets in Asia. The project represents a unique alliance between the Nisga’a Nation, Rockies LNG and Western LNG.

Ksi Lisims LNG is a proposed floating LNG export facility located on a site owned by the Nisga’a Nation near the community of Gingolx in British Columbia.

The project will have capacity to produce 12 million tonnes of LNG per year, destined for markets in the Pacific basin, primarily in Asia where demand for cleaner fuels to replace coal continues to grow.

Rendering of the proposed Ksi Lisims floating LNG project. Image courtesy Ksi Lisims LNG

As well, the second phase of the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat, B.C. shows increasing signs of moving forward, which would roughly double its annual production capacity from 14 million tonnes to 26 million tonnes, Exner-Pirot added.

While nearby, Cedar LNG, the world’s first Indigenous-owned LNG export facility, is closing in on the finish line with all permits in place and early construction underway. When completed, the facility will produce up to three million tonnes of LNG annually, which will be able to reach customers in Asia, and beyond.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world is on track to use more oil in 2024 than last year’s record-setting mark. Demand for both oil and natural gas is projected to see gradual growth through 2050, based on the most likely global scenario.

Kevin Birn, chief analyst for Canadian oil markets at S&P Global, said despite the Trans Mountain expansion increasing Canada’s oil export capacity by 590,000 barrels per day, conversations have already begun around the need for more infrastructure to export oil from western Canada.

“The Trans Mountain pipeline, although it’s critical and adds the single largest uplift in oil capacity in one swoop, we see production continue to grow, which puts pressures on that egress system,” he said.

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

Birn said Canada remains a major global player on the supply side, being the world’s fourth-largest producer of oil and fifth-largest producer of natural gas.

“This is a really important period for Canada. These megaprojects, they’re generational. These are a once-in-a-generation kind of thing,” Birn said.

“For Canada’s entire history of being an oil and gas producer, it’s been almost solely reliant on one single export market, which is the United States. That’s been beneficial, but it’s also caused problems for Canada in that reliance from time to time.

“This is the first time Canada will enter the global marketplace as a global player, so it is an incredibly important change for the industry.”

Exner-Pirot said Canada has the ability to become a major exporter on the energy front globally, at a time when demand is accelerating.

“We have open water from B.C. to our allies in Asia . . . It’s a straight line from Canada to its allies. This is a tremendous advantage,” she said, noting the growth of data centres and AI is expected to see demand for reliable energy soar.

“We are seeing growing electricity demand after decades of plateauing because our fridges got more energy efficient and our washers and dryers got more energy efficient. Now we’re starting to see for the first time in a long time more electricity demand even in developed countries. These are all drivers.”

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