Are Tar Sands Doomed?
April 5, 2016
This week’s astounding explosion in orders for Tesla’s new model 3, “EV for the Masses”, gives some credence to the idea that oil may follow the route of coal, sooner than many might have assumed.
Long predicated on the idea of forever increasing demand and high prices, Tar sands expansion has been hit hard by stagnating prices and demand.
Almost two decades of expansion in Alberta’s oil sands is set to end in 2018 as no projects currently under construction are set to be completed that year or beyond, according to Oil Sands Review’s Spring Oil Sands Quarterly. About half a million barrels a day of planned production capacity has been canceled or put on hold since the summer of 2014, when the oil-price rout began, the publication estimates.
Due to the collapse in the oil price, the tar sands producers are seriously struggling. There is too large a gap between the high cost of production of the tar sands and the current price of oil for many to invest over the long term.
It is worth remembering that the crisis in the tar sands comes at a time when there is growing public pressure to build a clean energy future that does not hitch Canada’s economy to the destructive boom and bust cycle of oil.
This concern can be seen in the growing opposition by front line communities across the country to new tar sands infrastructure such as pipelines and for support for building a safer, renewable energy economy.
For the industry, these concerns would be easier to dismiss if it sat on a cushion of high oil prices.
But the cushion has burst.
Because of the oil price plunge, some half a million barrels a day of planned production capacity has been cancelled or put on hold over the last eighteen months.
It’s time for oil investors to start taking electric cars seriously.
In the next two years, Tesla and Chevy plan to start selling electric cars with a range of more than 200 miles priced in the $30,000 range. Ford is investing billions, Volkswagen is investing billions, and Nissan and BMW are investing billions. Nearly every major carmaker—as well as Apple and Google—is working on the next generation of plug-in cars.
This is a problem for oil markets. OPEC still contends that electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of global car sales in 2040. Exxon’s forecast is similarly dismissive.
The oil price crash that started in 2014 was caused by a glut of unwanted oil, as producers started cranking out about 2 million barrels a day more than the market supported. Nobody saw it coming, despite the massively expanding oil fields across North America. The question is: How soon could electric vehicles trigger a similar oil glut by reducing demand by the same 2 million barrels?