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Black Gold’s Future is Mostly Red Ink, Energy Economists Say

Eric Kounce/Wikipedia
Eric Kounce/Wikipedia

The warnings to investors in high-cost fossil fuels to abandon ship while they still can rang loud again recently, at a global summit in Britain co-hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Carbon Tracker.

In particular, analysts at the summit gave a collective thumbs-down to the future of Canada’s tar sands/oil sands.

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Some global oil leaders—including France’s Total and Italy’s Enel—are hedging their future with bets in energy storage, wind, and solar generation. But with oil forecast to be in persistent surplus on world markets well into the next decade, buyers are flocking to low-cost producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela, squeezing the margins for high-cost producers like Canada’s tar sands/oil sands companies into negative territory.

“Low-cost oil producers are happy to see their higher-cost competitors go out of business,” the National Observer writes. “Coal was the first to be thrown under the bus. High-cost oil sands could be the next casualty as investors shift their focus away from hydrocarbons.”

The “tipping point” could come even faster than many observers expect, with G7 members including Canada committing to phase out fossil subsidies by 2025, and a growing number of jurisdictions setting deadlines for eliminating new sales of gasoline-fueled cars.

“The globe is experiencing an historic energy transition,” writes the Observer’s Hamish Stewart. “The winners will be renewable energy companies, hydrocarbon companies that adapt their business model to changing energy systems, and low-cost oil producers who can continue to pump oil at a profit, even when prices are low.” The rest of the pack of fossil fuel incumbents may be in trouble.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that electric cars will be cheaper to own and operate than conventional vehicles as early as 2022—just in time to trigger the next oil price crash.