Alberta Carbon Tax Will Have Little Effect On Oilsands: Report

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CALGARY — Alberta's incoming carbon taxes will have a minimal effect on new oilsands development compared with oil prices and market access, says a new report.

TD Bank economist Dina Ignjatovic said in the paper released Tuesday that if oil prices rise above US$60 a barrel then a carbon tax likely won't make or break investment decisions at all, while below that price few projects will get approved either way.

"Basically US$60 is that threshold, where before that you're not going to see a lot of new projects announced anyway,'' said Ignjatovic in an interview.

She said below the threshold margins are especially squeezed, so a carbon tax could have some impact, but that boosting efficiencies, more pipelines and higher oil prices heavily outweigh its importance.

alberta oilpatch

A service rig crew performs maintenance and repair work on an oilfield pumpjack and well head site in Alberta in June 2007.

"The low price environment is obviously very key for them. And market access is the other thing too,'' said Ignjatovic. "Unless we find more ways to get oil out of Alberta you're not going to see a huge amount of investment in the province's oilsands.''

She said Alberta's carbon tax, which starts at $20 a tonne next year and then to $30 a tonne the year after, provides some certainty for oilsands producers and reward those producers with lower emissions.

Ignjatovic pointed to the Alberta Environment and Parks estimate that most projects would see costs per barrel getting between 50 cents cheaper and 75 cents more expensive at $30 per tonne carbon pricing, though some carbon-intensive projects could see prices rising as much as $4 a barrel.

Federally-mandated tax more uncertain

She said the recent announcement of a federally-mandated carbon tax brings more uncertainty, however, as provinces haven't said how they'd respond to a mandate calling for $50 per tonne pricing by 2022.

"The murky part is what the federal tax will do on top of Alberta, because there's very little detail on that,'' she said.

"Some producers will be better off and can actually benefit from this.''

If Alberta simply follows its established policies but ramps up the price, the cost per barrel would range between 84 cents cheaper to $1.25 higher, Ignjatovic said.

"It's still a fairly small amount,'' she said. "Some producers will be better off and can actually benefit from this.''

Federal and provincial opposition leaders have called for carbon tax proposals to be scrapped because they say the tax will make Canada's oil and gas industry less competitive, especially after pro-industry Donald Trump won the U.S. election.

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