Oil prices could continue to slip moving into 2015, says BMO Private Bank in a new outlook report.
Already, it adds, crude has reached its lowest domestic price since July 2009 because Saudi Arabia is pushing prices downward, in an effort to maintain its global market share. That region’s primary target is the shale oil fields of Texas and North Dakota, where production has nearly doubled over the last nine years.
Further, slowing global growth has exacerbated the fall of oil prices.
On the upside, the report notes natural gas prices have been drifting lower since 2007, representing a cheap alternative energy source. Currently, natural gas costs roughly $24 per barrel, once compared to oil on a BTU-equivalent basis. At its peak in July 2008 when oil traded above $145, natural gas offered equivalent energy for $85.
“As crude prices fall, we need to consider the reasons why they could continue on this downward trend,” says Jack Ablin, CIO of BMO Private Bank. “One of the biggest, and often overlooked, reasons for plummeting oil prices is [competition from] natural gas. Like its crude counterpart, wet and dry natural gas production has expanded by more than 34% since 2007 due to drilling and production innovations.”
Looking back, the report highlights oil’s previous collapse in January 2009 took that global commodity down to $35 per barrel, matching the breakeven rate for natural gas. Ablin says, “While the price of West Texas Intermediate isn’t expected to sink to $24 per barrel, natural gas represents a viable alternative to crude that will likely keep it tethered.
“This is why the market can be bullish on natural gas, while bearish on oil.”
What about the environment?
There are alternatives to consuming and investing in crude, but a recent poll and paper by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) shows the majority of Canadians are leery of the costs of leaving oil behind.
At the Lima climate conference, which runs to December 12, the Secretary General of the United Nations urged Canada to be more ambitious and to have more vision when it comes to the future of the planet.
Yet the MEI poll shows only about 12% of consumers in Quebec and in the rest of Canada would be willing to spend more per year on bills to help fight climate change. And, if gas prices were raised to cut gas consumption, only 7% of Quebecers and 8% of other Canadians would accept such an increase.
Still, several environmentalist groups and political players want Canada and Quebec to reduce their consumption of oil in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Problem is, the cost of the measures proposed by these groups is rarely discussed.
Now, however, the paper released by MEI aims to measure the potential costs of the proposals offered by two environmentalist groups: Équiterre and Vivre en Ville. The data shows the energy proposals offered by these two groups would cost $6.4 billion a year, the equivalent of $1,875 per household. A similar calculation could be carried out for other provinces.
The paper also refutes the claim that the creation of more jobs in the clean energy sector would help offset such costs.
“Reducing our oil consumption and the pollution it generates is a good thing, but the measures currently proposed would profoundly transform our daily lives,” says Germain Belzile, one of three authors of the MEI paper.
And the poll shows that while three quarters of Canadians think climate change is important, only 25% would be willing to take steps and pay more to reach this objective. That’s in line with results of a survey released by the David Suzuki Foundation last month.
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