15 March 2011

No more give-aways indeed: Big Oil’s L’il Buddy considering cash breaks for major oil companies

According to the cover story in the latest issue of Natural Resources magazine, the provincial government and representatives of the major oil companies are reviewing ways to increase exploration offshore.

Operators are presenting the government with a “suite” of proposals, according to [industry representative Paul] Barnes — many of them involving fiscal incentives, such as tax credits or royalty relief, that could spur increased exploration. 

Barnes is quoted as saying that the talks are “high-level” likely meaning they involve the Premier and other senior cabinet ministers. The 2007 energy plan included a recommendation to establish a working group involving industry and the provincial government to develop “regulatory and fiscal measures” to promote exploration as well as what the document refers to as “other industry needs.”

One idea reportedly under consideration is a royalty break for dry exploration wells.

For example, companies already producing in the area may favour some type of incentive that’s royalty based. If they drill a well and come up dry, they could get royalty relief on current production. “If there’s some risk offset, that may encourage some additional exploration activity,” Barnes noted. He said there are similar royalty-relief holidays for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, to help mitigate the cost of unsuccessful wells.

That’s a significant switch from earlier Conservative positions but it is consistent with what the Conservatives have done since they took office.

For example, before 2003, when oil prices were below US$30 a barrel, Danny Williams attacked any suggestion that the Hebron partners might need a flat one percent oil royalty in the early years of any Hebron project.  Once in office, when oil prices tripled, he agreed to just just a windfall for the oil companies. The provincial government will lose hundreds of millions of dollars as a result, if oil prices remain above US$35 a barrel. 

Other issues for the industry include continued uncertainty about the province’s oil royalty regime.  The 2007 energy plan committed to scrap the existing one and replace it with a new approach.  Four years later there’s no sign of work being done, let alone any progress.

In natural gas, the provincial government still doesn’t have a royalty regime.  That’s despite the fact work on the rules started in 1997 and the 2007 energy plan outlined a draft royalty policy.

- srbp -