Gas Prices To Rise As Fort Mac Fire Cuts Into Oil Production

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FORT MCMURRAY FIRE
Wildfire smoke rises over Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 04 May 2016. Gasoline prices are expected to creep up due to the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., according to industry analyst Michael Dunn, who believes as much as one million barrels per day of Canadian oilsands production has been knocked offline. | CP
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CALGARY — Gasoline prices are expected to creep up due to the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., according to industry analyst Michael Dunn, who believes as much as one million barrels per day of Canadian oilsands production has been knocked offline.

Benchmark oil prices in New York rose Thursday as oilsands companies reported more than 600,000 barrels per day of production had been sidelined because of the fire, which has sent employees and their families scrambling for safety while impeding transportation and forcing the closure of supply and takeaway pipelines.

But analysts think the number could be much higher.

Dunn, an oilsands analyst for Calgary investment firm FirstEnergy Capital, said he thinks production is actually down one million barrels per day, while RBC Dominion Securities analyst Greg Pardy estimates it's down 900,000 to one million bpd — 35 to 38 per cent of RBC's forecast average of 2.6 million bpd for 2016.

"Assuming flat global oil prices, the implications are for higher regional or local oil prices relative to global prices," Dunn said.

shell albian sands

A haul truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta., Wednesday, July 9, 2008. Shell shut down the facility this week amid the fire in Fort McMurray. (Canadian Press photo)

"The question for oil production is beyond this week, looking out several weeks, how materially displaced the labour force is in Fort McMurray and for how long and how does that impact their ability to get to the sites to work their shifts."

In its latest report in February, the National Energy Board said there had been an average of 2.5 million barrels per day produced from the oilsands so far in 2016.

Shell Canada closed its Albian mine operations north of Fort McMurray on Tuesday, taking about 250,000 bpd out of production.

Dunn said Shell's refinery near Edmonton is specifically designed to use feedstock from its mine but that supply has been cut off by a pipeline outage.

He said if Shell's refinery runs out of stored bitumen and is forced to close, it will result in a much tighter gasoline supply in Western Canada. Higher prices for oilsands crude will squeeze profit margins at rival refineries and cause them to raise prices for consumers.

"I expect we will recover fairly quickly but it's too early to say how much damage has actually been done..."-- Steve Laut, Canadian Natural Resources

Overnight Wednesday, Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) shut down its upgrader just north of Fort McMurray, taking about 300,000 bpd of synthetic crude out of the market, and ConocoPhillips Canada closed its Surmont operations, which had been producing about 53,000 bpd.

On a conference call on Thursday morning, president Steve Laut of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) said he believes the industry will recover quickly.

"It's a very resilient and I would say innovative service and supply industry here in Alberta and in Fort McMurray," he said. "I expect we will recover fairly quickly but it's too early to say how much damage has actually been done to equipment and operations in the town of Fort McMurray."

He warned that if the wildfire cuts off the supply of external power to Canadian Natural's Horizon oilsands mine and upgrader, output would be choked back to 70,000 bpd from about 130,000 bpd. Electricity generated on site would allow the facility to continue to produce on a limited basis.

Horizon, which is 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, has had only minor setbacks related to the fire, mainly from pipeline outages.