Market Snapshot: Saskatchewan heavy oil production relatively stable despite lower oil prices

Release date: 2017-05-10

Despite lower oil prices and reduced drilling activity in western Canada since 2014, production of conventional heavy oilFootnote 1 in Saskatchewan remained relatively stable. Over this period, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price dropped 53% and drilling activity dropped 63%, but Saskatchewan heavy oil production only dropped 18%. In fact, this production was stable in 2016 and even increased slightly in the latter half of the year.

Source and Description

Source: NEB

Description: This combined area and line graph shows Saskatchewan heavy oil production and monthly WTI price in US$ per barrel between January 2010 and December 2016. The price of WTI fell from an annual average of over US$93 per barrel in 2014 to an annual average of roughly US$43 in 2016 – a drop of 54%. Production of heavy oil in Saskatchewan over the same time period averaged nearly 340 Mb/d in 2014 and only dropped 18% to 280 Mb/d by 2016 and was 299 Mb/d in December 2016.

The resilience of Saskatchewan heavy oil production is largely due to greater use of thermal production techniques similar to those used in Alberta’s in situ oil sands operations. In 2016, steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) was used in more than a dozen Saskatchewan heavy oil projects, compared to only six in 2014. These thermal projects use industry standard SAGD technology which injects steam into horizontal wells to heat the heavy oil and allow it to flow into lower parallel wells, where it is then pumped to the surface.

Located primarily in the Lloydminster area, Saskatchewan’s thermal heavy oil projects have low decline rates and relatively low operating costs compared to other conventional production. Producers active in the region, including Husky Energy and Blackpearl Resources, report operating costs as low as US$8-$9 per barrel and costs for new projects that would break even at a WTI price of roughly US$45 per barrel.Footnote 2

Saskatchewan heavy oil production accounts for a relatively small portion of Canadian oil production due to its fewer reservesFootnote 3 – about 280 Mb/d in 2016 compared to 1.9 MMB/d of total Canadian heavy oil production and 3.9 MMB/d of oil production of all types. It is an area of conventional (i.e. non-oil sands) production that has been, and is likely to remain, relatively stable.

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