Four years beyond the onset of recession, and what do we have to show for it? No conclusive recovery, deterioration in structural indicators, unprecedented pessimism and lots of volatility. In an environment like this, can we really be surprised any more? Perhaps the great surprise of 2012 is our growing immunity to shocks, a melancholy diffidence wrought in multiple aborted economic rebounds.
It's a compelling, if not entirely convincing posit. We entered 2012 facing a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but Europe is still bumping along, with its biggest problems still confined to the peripheral economies; worst fears about the spread of the Arab Spring were not realized; Iran-Israel tensions have eased somewhat; stumbling emerging market giants seem more sure-footed; and political transitions (in the U.S., Russia, Japan and China, among others) have been reasonably smooth and free of negative surprises. In light of this, perhaps we could call 2012 proof of how little difference a year can make, a sort of triumph of the status quo. Was it really that dull?
Not exactly. Humdrum was jolted in May by the collapse of the Greek election. For the first time in this turbulent odyssey, it looked like politicians had been booted out of the drivers' seat, and that in spite of huge will to the contrary, the mechanisms for preventing financial and economic collapse had themselves collapsed. Nascent worry froze markets for a spell -- but the fact that this is now a distant, cloudy memory speaks well of the remedy. Another one for the almost a catastrophe file. Yawn.
But wait...something did happen in the latter months of the year -- surprising not so much because it occurred, but where. World oil production is rising more than was forecast. A shock? No, that's what happens when prices spike. What is surprising is that it's occurring right in our backyard -- in the good ol' USA, where West Texas, Midwest and Alaska crude have been in decline for years, Gulf oil approvals were threatened by the BP disaster, and the West Coast moratorium shut down hopes of ever again attaining energy self-sufficiency. During the fall, analysts sharpened their pencils, and heralded the return of continental self-sufficiency in oil and gas by 2035, and overtaking Saudi Arabia as top producer by 2020. This would have been laughable in 2008. Can it really be true?
Thanks to fracking technology, the U.S. is now able to viably tap into shale oil and gas deposits. The rich Bakken field has gone from zero to 50-million barrels of production between 2005 and 2009, with lots of upside; in the U.S. portion of the field, there are over two-billion barrels of proven reserves. Moreover, Bakken is just one of at least five key shale producing areas, with more to be explored. Regulation may hinder development, but the potential of this new resource will be tough to resist.
The implications of this key development are manifold. First, greater self-sufficiency reduces U.S. dependence on "politically risky" oil. At the same time, it reduces U.S. incentive to play global peace broker. World prices are likely to drop. Revenues will stanch America's nagging twin deficits. It also reduces U.S. dependence on Canadian oil, but frees up the latter for thirsty emerging markets.
The bottom line? How quickly we have gone from running out of oil to being awash in the stuff. Maybe the surprise is that we are surprised that history is merely repeating itself! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and best wishes for a splendid New Year.
The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>
Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>
One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.