31 August 2007

Williams creates Hebron royalty confusion

In a letter to the Friday National Post, Premier Danny Williams has given a completely different version of the Hebron royalty regime from the one announced on August 22, 2007 and confirmed by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale in an interview with the Telegram a few days later.
With regards to criticism of modifications to the basic royalty, it is important to note that the change is the difference between 2.5% and 1% -- not between 7.5% and 1% as reported by Mr. Coyne -- in addition, we still maintain the 5%, and in some cases 7.5%, level of royalty once costs are recovered. As well, the province will still receive the monetary benefits of being a 4.9% owner of this project during these early years.
The government Hebron news release stated that the only changes to the province's generic royalty regime were to add a Tier 3 royalty (the so-called super-royalty) and to reduce the basic royalty to a flat 1% until the project attained simple payout. It made no reference to the basic royalty level after simple payout. Presumably, Tier and 2 would continue as currently stated in the generic regime.

The generic regime basic royalty begins with a 1% royalty on gross revenue and rises through a series of triggers to as much as 7.5% on gross revenue. After simple payout, the basic royalty - at whatever rate is in place at that time - continues and is supplemented by additional royalties based on a net revenue calculation. Simple payout is the point at which the project development costs are covered.

Dunderdale confirmed the 1% flat rate to the Telegram, but referred obliquely to a 5% rate applying in a net royalty period (i.e. after simple pay out.) She apparently provided no further details. At no point was there reference to a potential 7.5% basic royalty.

The scenario painted by the Premier for the National Post would assume project simple payout after less than four years of production, despite total project costs estimated to be $7.0 billion to $11 billion. Even at the lower range of costs, i.e. start-up costs of $5.0 to $6.0 billion, the project would likely take longer than that to pay out unless one assumes sustained high prices for Hebron heavy oil well into the future.

As well, Williams' comments suggest the royalty regime for Hebron is significantly different from what was announced on August 22 and significantly different from the generic regime. Under the generic regime, the basic royalty continues at a fixed rate after simple payout but is supplement by a series of higher rates applied to a net revenue. Williams' comments in the Post suggest further variability in the basic royalty after simple payout.

No information is available beyond the government's contradictory comments since the memorandum of understanding among the operators (including the provincial government) prohibits the disclosure of the document.

There is no way of confirming the extent of the confidentiality clause to determine if the information released to date actually violates the confidentiality agreement.