Canada tar sand exploration ‘on hold until 2017’

High cost, high carbon source of oil is hit by low oil prices, analysts say, with 5.6bn barrels worth of projects shelved

Tar sand is one of the most expensive and carbon-intensive sources of oil (Flickr / Howl Arts Collective)

Tar sand is one of the most expensive and carbon-intensive sources of oil (Flickr / Howl Arts Collective)

By Megan Darby

Tar sands exploration in Canada is likely to be put on hold for two years, according to analysts.

Some 5.6 billion barrels worth of projects have been deferred so far this year, revealed a note from Wood Mackenzie, an energy research outfit.

The short-term outlook is “bleak” for investment in the sector, it said. “We expect a lull in new project spending through to 2017.”

That bears out research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which last November warned tar sands were a risky prospect.

One of the most expensive sources of oil, tar sands also take a lot of energy to exploit, increasing the fuel’s carbon footprint.

Environmentalists have shown fierce opposition to tar sands by protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the US.

Report: Oil majors to reveal climate strategy in October

Canadian ventures make up 30% of a worldwide rollback of spending on major oil and gas projects worth more than US$200 billion, Wood Mackenzie found.

At $53 a barrel on Tuesday, the oil price is less than half its value a year ago. The 46 shelved projects needed on average $60-65 to break even.

A third of known oil reserves must stay in the ground to prevent dangerous levels of global warming, a study from UCL found.

If all fossil fuels are extracted and burned, the emissions will push temperatures well beyond the 2C threshold agreed by governments.

Effective action to curb emissions, on the other hand, will dent demand for oil. Negotiators are aiming to strike a deal in Paris this December to hold warming to 2C.

Carbon Tracker has suggested a $95 cut-off point for projects to fit within the 2C “carbon budget”.

Oil majors increasingly talk about pursuing “value over volume”, in recognition there may not be a market for endless supplies of crude.

Wood Mackenzie suggested that by trimming costs, they may get the go-ahead for a handful of projects in 2015.

“Only those assets with the most robust economics can now expect to make the grade,” the report said.

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