(The Fuse) Oil prices plunged to fresh decade-plus lows by mid-January amid concerns over persistent oversupply and the faltering Chinese economy. A growing chorus is projecting oil to drop as far as $25 or $20 per barrel before all is said and done, with some even raising the prospect of sub-$20 oil.
There are some places where oil already passed those lowly depths weeks ago, most notably Canada. While WTI and Brent hover around $30 per barrel, Western Canadian Select (WCS), a benchmark for heavy crude in Canada, has plunged to less than half that level. WCS has dropped to nearly $15 per barrel, the lowest price on record, and Bitumen from Alberta actually fell to $8.35 per barrel on January 12. While WTI and Brent hover around $30 per barrel, Western Canadian Select, a benchmark for heavy crude in Canada, has plunged to less than half that level. WCS has dropped to nearly $15 per barrel, the lowest price on record. WCS trades at a discount to WTI for a variety of reasons, including lower quality, the location where it’s produced, and a shortage of pipeline capacity . With prices painfully low, many Canadian oil producers are now fully under water. Short-term variable costs for operating an existing project in Alberta are higher than today’s oil prices. Although cost structures fluctuate from company to company, even the largest oil sands projects need oil prices at $40 per barrel to cover variable costs. With WCS trading at $16 per barrel, the vast majority of producers in Canada’s oil sands are losing money on every barrel sold.
For the long-term outlook, investing in new oil sands projects in Canada has been off the table since at least early 2015 for most companies. Estimates vary, but new oil sands projects can easily require $80 to $90 per barrel , or even triple-digit oil prices to turn a profit.
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