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CAPP predicts steady oilsands growth, but at slower pace than previous forecast

CALGARY - Oilsands production is expected to grow steadily in the years to come, but at a slower pace than previously forecast because of rising costs and capital constraints, Canada's main oil and gas lobby group said Monday.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers sees oilsands production hitting 4.8 million barrels a day by 2030, about two and a half times higher than last year's output of 1.9 million barrels.

But the figure is 7.7 per cent lower than the 5.2 million barrels of daily oilsands output CAPP predicted for the same time frame last year.

The big divergence between the 2013 and 2014 forecasts comes after 2020, because some oilsands projects have been delayed.

"When we went and asked them what the cause of that was, the biggest thing that came back was competitiveness," said CAPP vice-president Greg Stringham.

The pinch is being felt by both large-scale oilsands miners and those that pump steam underground to extract the sticky bitumen. For big miners, like Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU), it's a matter of rising costs for materials and labour. But for smaller in-situ players, access to capital is more of an issue, Stringham said.

A recent run-up in the price of natural gas, a key power source for oilsands producers, is also being felt.

Late last month, the Canadian arm of French energy giant Total S.A. announced it would indefinitely defer its $11-billion Joslyn North mine because the economics just weren't good enough.

CAPP made some last-minute changes to its forecast to incorporate the Total decision.

The mentality amongst oilsands companies is different today than it was before the recession, when several multibillion-dollar projects were on the go in the Fort McMurray, Alta., area at once, leading to huge cost overruns and delays.

CAPP foresees overall Canadian oil production generally growing by an average of four per cent per year until 2030, from 3.5 million barrels per day last year to 6.4 million barrels per day at the end of the forecast period. Last year, it expected 6.7 million barrels per day by 2030.

"People recognize that it's going to be a more gradual process going forward. We look at kind of the annual increase of how much oilsands can be built in the province and what that means for economic pressures and labour availability," said Stringham.

"It's much more constant, but much more gradual than the up and down of the major projects we had pre-recession."

Transportation capacity, by pipeline and rail, is tight over the next few years. CAPP says future production growth depends on the industry finding new avenues to get crude to market.

CAPP has worked delays of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline and others into its forecast.

Currently, there are 3.7 million barrels per day of pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, with proposed projects totalling 3.4 million barrels per day in the hopper.

However, those projects could be further delayed and it's not certain whether some of them will go ahead at all. For instance, while a federal decision on Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) controversial 525,000 barrel a day Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast is expected any day now, the company has said it intends to take more time to get B.C. First Nations, who are vehemently opposed to the project, on side.

Rail has become an important stop-gap transportation measure for producers while pipelines remain in limbo. Close to 200,000 barrels a day were moving late last year, CAPP said, and that could rise to 700,000 barrels a day on the tracks by 2016.

While Canada's vast oilsands resources are the main driver of production growth, conventional oil output is rising faster than previously expected. Conventional oil is expected to rise to 1.5 million barrels per day in 2030, up from 1.3 million barrels last year. That's 100,000 barrels per day more than last year's forecast predicted, as producers are turning an increased focus towards valuable natural gas liquids.

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