IN FRIGID WATERS 350km east of Newfoundland, the West White Rose undertaking is designed to provide as much as 75,000 barrels of oil a day. Whether or not it really pumps a drop is a separate query. In September Husky Power, its predominant backer, stated it will assessment the funding and urged Canada’s authorities to take a direct stake. The province has since set new incentives for exploration and the federal authorities has introduced C$320m ($240m) to help its power sector. But Husky says West White Rose’s future stays unsure.

This yr’s implosion of oil costs has led corporations to rethink investments from Newfoundland to Nigeria. As capital has turn out to be scarce, some governments have taken motion—for higher or worse. Norway set new local weather targets but additionally handed tax aid to encourage new drilling. In Canada, the place an index of power corporations has shed greater than half its worth this yr, the downturn has amplified long-standing questions on how the federal government can assist—or whether or not it ought to.

Canada pumps extra oil than anybody bar America, Saudi Arabia and Russia. However covid-19 caps a bumpy decade. American shale has provided quick, simple (if not all the time worthwhile) progress in contrast with Canada’s offshore initiatives or its mucky oil sands, the place constructing mines and processing thick bitumen is each pricey and carbon-intensive. Insufficient pipelines from Alberta, the trade hub, added additional pressure. Equinor of Norway, ConocoPhillips, an American main, and Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch one, bought their oil sands in 2016 and 2017. In February Teck Assets, based mostly in Vancouver, scrapped plans for a big new undertaking. The corporate cited capital constraints, opposition from indigenous teams and unsure regulation.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister since 2015, has coupled inexperienced ambition with a want to avert the trade’s collapse. In his first time period he handed a carbon tax. However he additionally backed the federal government’s buy of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan, an American agency, to deliver oil from Alberta to the Pacific.

Because the pandemic has battered Canadian oil corporations, Mr Trudeau has tried to prop corporations up with out fairly bailing them out. Measures embody C$1.7bn to wash up deserted wells and a nationwide scheme to assist all industries pay wages, greater than C$1bn of which went to grease, fuel, mining and quarrying corporations. The C$320m earmarked for Newfoundland and Labrador goals to assist oil producers cut back their emissions and put money into analysis and amenities.

Paul Barnes of the Canadian Affiliation of Petroleum Producers, a commerce group, welcomes the help for Newfoundland and Labrador. Whether or not it helps initiatives advance is one other matter, he says.

Equinor is amongst these to delay plans for Canadian offshore drilling. In September Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier from the opposition Conservative Get together, blasted Mr Trudeau, a Liberal, for failing to supply extra assist. Mr Kenney maintains that Canada’s oil sector can thrive if solely Mr Trudeau would let it (and, in a feat of rhetorical finesse, has argued the world will proceed to rely upon oil, not “unicorn farts”). In March Alberta took a C$1.5bn stake in TC Power’s Keystone XL pipeline, to funnel crude from Alberta to refineries alongside America’s Gulf Coast, and backstopped the undertaking with a $6bn mortgage assure.

Even beneficiant support wouldn’t spur fast progress. Suncor, an enormous Canadian producer, introduced 2,000 lay-offs this month. Traders have little urge for food for large initiatives. The sector received’t vanish; current oil-sands endeavours can have working prices as little as C$7 a barrel, says Mark Oberstoetter of Wooden Mackenzie, a analysis agency. Beside fast-depleting American shale, oil sands’ regular output could look engaging, says Benny Wong of Morgan Stanley, a financial institution. Waterous Power Fund, a private-equity agency that has purchased greater than half of the Canadian reserves bought previously three years, has a easy technique, says its boss, Adam Waterous: “Maintain manufacturing flat and maximise sustainable free cashflow.” With or with out authorities handouts.

This text appeared within the Enterprise part of the print version beneath the headline “Crude crutch”

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