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Scrapped: How nearly $150 billion worth of energy projects have been shelved in Canada


By Kevin Martine

Canadian and international investors have had a hard time getting shovels in the ground on their projects, even after securing regulatory approval. The reasons have been many: pure economics, political divisions, Indigenous disapproval and environmental concerns.

All of the above factors have left a slew of projects stranded as Canadians are unable to agree on our need to develop resources and at the same time fight climate change. Together, they make up around $150 billion of lost investment opportunity that would have generated taxes, jobs and businesses for the domestic economy.

Here are some of the major energy projects over the past few years that never saw the light of day:

Project: Frontier Oilsands Mine

Cost: $20.6 billion
Company: Teck Resources Ltd.

The proposed oilsands mine in northern Alberta was expected to produce 260,000 barrels of oil per day. It was cancelled by the proponent over the weekend amid a major fight between Ottawa and Alberta over climate change issues, a lack of pipeline capacity and low oil prices. The project was expected to push up Canadian carbon emissions and was opposed by environmental groups, but enjoyed the support of many First Nations in the region.

Project: Northern Gateway
Cost: $7.9 billion
Company: Enbridge Inc.
The proposed pipeline to bring oil from northern Alberta to a port in Kitimat B.C. was approved by Stephen Harper’s government in 2014, but was quashed by a Federal Court of Appeal two years later. It was rejected by the Liberal government in 2016.

The pipeline was expected to ship 525,000 barrels of oil per day to international markets and boost pipeline capacity to meet the needs of surging Canadian oil production.

Project: Energy East
Cost: $16 billion
Company: TransCanada Corp. (now TC Energy Corp.)

A proposed pipeline to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to coastal refineries in New Brunswick. TransCanada planned to build 1,500 kilometres of new pipe and reverse the direction on another 3,000 km of an existing pipeline. It faced heavy opposition in Quebec and Ontario and the environmental review process was marked by controversy. The National Energy Board, the regulator at the time, ultimately asked the company to restart the environmental review process. TransCanada scrapped the project in October 2017.

Project: Pacific Northwest LNG
Cost: $36 billion
Lead company: Petronas Bhd.

The proposed LNG pipeline and export terminal in Prince Rupert B.C. on the Pacific Ocean was to export as much as 18 million tonnes of natural gas per year. The Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company and its international partners said high upfront investment costs along with plummeting global prices for natural gas reduced the feasibility of the project. The project also faced a lengthy environmental review process, with concerns raised by local Indigenous groups about the project’s impact on fragile salmon spawning grounds in the area. It was cancelled by Petronas in July 2017.

Project: Aurora LNG
Cost: $28 billion
Lead company: Nexen Energy

The proposed LNG export terminal was expected to be built south of Prince Rupert in B.C. The project was a partnership between Nexen, the Chinese-oil company based in Calgary, and Japan-based INPEX Gas. It was expected to handle between 10 to 12 million tonnes of natural gas each year, but the proponents announced in September 2017 that they would scrap the project.

Project: Prince Rupert LNG
Cost: $16 billion
Lead company: Royal Dutch Shell

The proposed LNG export facility in Prince Rupert B.C. was expected to have an export capacity of up to 21 million tonnes per year. It was cancelled in March 2017, after its developer BG Group was acquired by Royal Dutch Shell.

Shell said that it was cancelling the project because it wished to focus on its other B.C. LNG project in Kitimat B.C. The LNG Canada export terminal will connect resources in B.C. to Asian markets via the Coastal Gaslink — the pipeline opposed by some hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs who are upset that the pipeline traverses through their unceded territory. The opposition has led to rail blockades across the country and has emerged as another flashpoint in the debate over Indigenous issues and resource development.

Project: WCC LNG
Cost: $25 billion
Lead company: Exxon Mobil Corp.

A proposed LNG export facility in Prince Rupert B.C. which was expected to export 15 million tonnes of natural gas per year, with room to expand to up to 30 million tonnes per year. It was being developed as a joint partnership between Exxon Mobil Corp. and its subsidiary the Calgary-based Imperial Oil Ltd. The project was shelved indefinitely in December 2018.



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‘Not looking for a Trudeau handout’: Alberta spurns notion of bailout in lieu of Frontier mine approval


OTTAWA — Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon flatly rejected any suggestion that Ottawa could placate the province with an aid package if it turns down the $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine.

“Albertans are not looking for a Justin Trudeau handout,” Nixon said in a press conference Friday. “We’re not interested in that. We want Justin Trudeau and the federal government to get out of Albertans’ way, to let hard-working Albertans do what they do best, which is create prosperity for this province and create prosperity for this country.”

Reuters, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that if the Frontier mine plan was rejected by cabinet, federal officials were preparing various streams of funding for Alberta, including cash to help clean up thousands of abandoned wells spread across the province.

Nixon said the province has not been approached by Ottawa for a potential deal. “The Frontier mine is not a political gift,” he said.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told an audience at the Canada Institute in Washington, “It’s hard to overstate the response of Albertans, not just our government, but Albertans broadly, if this project were to be rejected.”

Teck has already spent $1 billion during the past decade to clear a series of regulatory hurdles, invest in technology designed to lighten the mine’s carbon footprint and forge agreements with First Nations groups, Kenney said. A rejection from Ottawa now would signal to investors that despite such efforts, projects can ultimately be scuttled by an “arbitrary political decision” made without any transparency, he said.

“I think that would be a devastating message to send in terms of investor confidence at a time when we are struggling to attract foreign direct investment to the Canadian economy,” he said, speaking alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. “So the response would be very challenging.”

Demand for crude oil will continue during the coming decades even as energy transitions away from fossil fuels, Kenney added, and it’s better that the last barrel of oil come from “a stable reliable democracy with the highest environmental and human rights labour standards on earth. Teck represents a pathway to that.”

Teck Resources’ proposed $20.6-billion Frontier project could produce 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen in northern Alberta, making it one of the largest in the oilsands.

Teck Resources’ proposed $20.6-billion Frontier project could produce 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen in northern Alberta, making it one of the largest in the oilsands.

Norm Betts/Bloomberg files

The Liberal cabinet’s decision on Frontier, proposed by Vancouver-based Teck Resources, will be released by end of month.

Environmental groups and others have called on the prime minister to reject the proposal, saying it conflicts with the Liberal pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The project would emit around four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, over a 40-year period.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau downplayed the Reuters report, saying efforts by federal officials were unrelated to the approval or rejection of the oilsands mine.

Nixon on Friday joined other Conservative voices who have called on the Liberals to support the project “on its merits,” claiming that a rejection would undermine Canada’s regulatory process and further sour intergovernmental relations.

“For the prime minster and the government to come in at the last minute and change the rules will create significant instability within our province,” he said.

“We have been clear with the federal government that we do have a unity crisis brewing within this country.”

The Frontier mine is not a political gift

Frustrations have been mounting in the province amid a more than decade-long failure to build major pipeline infrastructure, causing Canadian oil prices to sell at a steep discount to American rivals. The Trudeau government was completely wiped out in Alberta and Saskatchewan during the 2019 election, largely as a result of growing distrust toward Ottawa.

The election results speak to the “divisions we have in our nation,” Moe said. “I think, in fairness, that manifested itself on election night.”

Industry groups have complained that regulatory reviews in Canada have stretched on years longer than what is appropriate, due at times to legal challenges and political wrangling.

Trudeau is reportedly facing pressure from within his own caucus to reject the project, though a number of cabinet ministers support its approval and later development.

Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who serves as parliamentary secretary for housing, told reporters on Friday he had “significant concerns” with some of the environmental impacts associated with Frontier, particularly for those in northern First Nations communities.

“And we talk a lot about Alberta, but I think it’s time we talk more about the Northwest Territories, in particular the health of the Delta, the Mackenzie Delta,” he said.

Alberta MP Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative natural resources critic, said the Teck Frontier decision will be a defining moment for the Liberal government.

“If the Liberals reject the Teck Frontier mine, Albertans will perceive that as a rejection of Alberta from Canada,” she said in Ottawa. “That is where the vast majority of my constituents are at.”

Don Lindsay, the CEO of Teck, recently said it was “anyone’s guess” whether Frontier would be built due to years of regulatory delays and political pressure. Some analysts have suggested the project would not be viable in today’s oil markets, after global oil prices slumped in mid-2014.

— With files from The Canadian Press





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Ukraine to boost renewables, energy efficiency with EU help



Ukraine can focus in developing the country’s renewable energy sector and improve the much-delayed energy efficiency now that the former Soviet republic has concluded the gas transit agreement with Russia, the European Union’s energy chief said on 12 January.

“Meeting with Ukraine’s Minister of Energy Oleksiy Orzhel: after the conclusion of the gas transit agreement, Ukraine can focus on the future of energy and the development of renewable and energy efficiency” European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson wrote in a tweet, adding that the EU would support Ukraine’s efforts. Simson also said that the Commissioner is looking forward to the next high-level dialogue between the EU and Ukraine.

The former Soviet republic that is reliant on fossil fuels is planning to reduce CO2 emissions by developing a green energy transition and increasing energy efficiency, especially in industry and buildings.

Simson met Orzhel on the sidelines of the 10th session of the International renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) General Assembly in Abu Dhabi at the United Arab Emirates. She also held a meeting with UAE Climate Change and Environment Minister Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi on the EU Green Deal and the way to reach climate neutrality. “I am happy to see their active engagement and readiness to continue cooperation,” she said.



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Turkey, Libya delimitation deal raises geopolitical tensions



Turkey has signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognised government on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could affect oil and gas exploration of other countries and heighten geopolitical tensions in the volatile region.

Ankara reportedly announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation on 28 November.

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 November that the immediate impact of the Libya-Turkey agreement is on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Greece and Egypt.

Both Greece and Egypt, but also Cyprus, have already strongly condemned this as not being in agreement with international law, blatantly ignoring the rights of islands. Cairo dismissed the deal between Ankara and Tripoli as “illegal” and Athens said the accord is “completely unacceptable” because it ignored the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya and summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry on 29 November also condemned the deal. “Such a delimitation, if done, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” an announcement said, CyprusMail reported. “It would be contrary to the recognised principle of the convention on the law of the sea and the rights of islands’ EEZ,” it added. “With the distortion of the law of the sea and the counterfeiting of geography – Turkey will gain no footing in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it concluded.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that with the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions Turkey is protecting “rights deriving from international law.” Reuters quoted him as saying that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favour of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on 29 November Turkey’s illegal acts do not have legal repercussions. “Ankara’s attempt to agree with an unstable regime, which represents only part of Libya and therefore any deal it signs is uncertain, is a result of its isolation particularly from energy developments. Given that Turkey cannot agree with any other regional actor not only in the delimitation of the continental shelve or EEZ but also on how to stabilize the region and make it prosperous, it is left with no option but to approach a semi-rogue regime in order to showcase its regional power,” he said, adding that the message it wants to send is that any agreement or plan, including energy projects, cannot be fulfilled without Ankara’s consent.

Ellinas said the Libya-Turkey agreement indirectly affects Cyprus as well, as Turkey uses the same justification to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Mediterranean. “In effect, this ignores the entitlement of islands, including Cyprus and Crete, to an EEZ. Turkey defines its ‘EEZ’ to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a ‘unique’ interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,” Ellinas said.

He argued that Ankara appears to be picking and choosing, as it has used UNLOS principles to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Black Sea but does not accept them in the Mediterranean. “That may be challengeable under customary international law,” the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO said.

“In all likelihood Turkey is doing this, as well as through its aggressive actions in carrying out exploration and drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, in order to establish a position of strength from which eventually to enter into negotiations. But also as a reaction to the growing cooperation among almost all the other countries bordering the East Med. Turkey’s claims have no internationally recognised legal basis,” Ellinas said.

According to Filis, it is not clear whether there is an agreement – rather, it seems to be a preliminary step of expressing their intention to sign an agreement in the future. “But the most dangerous repercussion might be Turkey’s attempt to use it as a basis for projecting its supposed sovereign right to proceed with seismic activities in the area between Rhodes and Crete, especially in the southeastern part of the matter, thus confirming its strategic interest for the triangle between Crete, Kastellorizo and Cyprus,” he said.

Asked what could be the US and EU reaction to this agreement and how does it affect geopolitics in the region, Ellinas said both Washington and Brussels, and all other neighbouring countries in the East Med, recognise Cyprus’ and other countries’ rights to their EEZs declared in accordance to UNCLOS. He explained that as UNCLOS is not legally enforceable against a state that declines to sign and ratify it, the way to resolve this may eventually be through negotiations or arbitration on the basis of internationally recognised law and not through aggressive actions as Turkey is now pursuing.



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Cenovus joins Big Oil’s push into Big Data with Amazon and IBM deals


CALGARY — Big Oil is continuing its push into Big Data as Cenovus Energy Inc. has struck deals with tech giants Amazon Web Services and International Business Machines Corp. in an attempt to harness the power of cloud computing and lower its costs.

I don’t want this to be our grandfather’s industry

Ian Enright, Cenovus vice-president and chief information officer

“I don’t want to run our grandfather’s IT shop. I don’t want this to be our grandfather’s industry,” Ian Enright, Cenovus vice-president and chief information officer, said of the Calgary-based company’s plans to move its data out of two local data centres and into Amazon Web Services’ cloud following a deal struck over the summer.

The oil and gas producer is also planning to use Amazon’s cloud computing power to process and analyze its data and run other software programs in a move the company says will lower costs and allow it to better understand the “millions of data points” produced by its steam-based oilsands plants.

“Running machine learning and analytics against these things, as other industries have found, we really feel we’ll be able to enhance our operations and our efficiency,” Enright said.

“Right now, we’re just scratching the surface of the value of that,” he said.

Cenovus did not announce the deal with Amazon when it was struck, but described a broader push at the company to adopt new digital technologies and cut costs. In an interview Enright said the company ran a “bake-off” between cloud computing providers in late 2018 and picked Amazon this year for its big move to cloud computing.

In fact, a series of recent announcements indicate that more Calgary-based oil and gas companies are turning to cloud computing and big data in an attempt to modernize their businesses as the energy industry is trying to shed its reputation of being laggards when it comes to adopting digital technologies.

This month, oilsands rival Suncor Energy Inc. announced a similar partnership with Microsoft Corp. to migrate its data, computing power and processes to the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s cloud services and overhaul many aspects of its business.

While oil and gas companies have been pilloried for being digital laggards, large Calgary-based oil and gas companies have been quietly integrating new digital technologies in a bid to cut costs as they’ve been pressured by low oil prices, a lack of export pipelines.

In 2017, Calgary-based pipeline giant TC Energy Corp. began migrating its data and computer processing onto Amazon’s cloud services and that move to cloud computing is now 90 per cent complete, said Eric Gales, Amazon Web Services country manager for Canada.

TC Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

As we enter the next chapter of digital reinvention, the oil and gas industry is primed for transformation

Ross Manning, IBM’s vice-president, Canadian energy industry

Gales said he’s seen a major change in large companies’ attitudes towards digital technologies in the past four years and said the pace of adoption has increased dramatically.

“Four years ago, I was still having conversations with customers about ‘why?’ Now, it’s about ‘Where do I start?’” Gales said.

Now he said, many of the major companies in the Canadian oilpatch have a “cloud strategy” because “the case for the cloud has been made.”

At Cenovus, Enright said he believes the move to Amazon’s cloud computing service will allow it to run multiple data analyses concurrently — something it wasn’t able to do previously — and also cut down the amount of time it takes to analyze that data.

“When you go to the cloud to look at reservoir simulations or modelling our greenhouse gas improvements, things like that, we can model many things simultaneously,” Enright said.

For example, when Cenovus struck its $17.7-billion deal to buy ConocoPhillips Co.’s Canadian assets in 2017, it took the company nearly four months to acquire the computer servers it needed to process the data for the deal.

As the company integrates more of its processes into Amazon’s cloud, Enright said he’s confident the company could process the same volume and complexity of data in under three weeks.

On Monday, Cenovus also announced a deal with IBM in which the Armonk, New York-based tech giant will implement a suite of new software programs at the oilsands producer.

Enright said the technology will run in the cloud and is part of the broader push to cloud computing and faster decision making aided by digital technologies.

“As we enter the next chapter of digital reinvention, the oil and gas industry is primed for transformation, with companies turning to new platforms that will maximize the value of their assets, lower operating costs and continue to improve on their sustainable operations,” IBM’s vice-president, Canadian energy industry Ross Manning said in a release.

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