Betts Drilling Rig 3 north of Glen Ewen in late January, 2024.

Details on Multi-lateral Well Program released

REGINA – When it comes to the energy sector, the 2024 provincial budget in large part expects a lot of the same – flat oil production, and similar oil prices. But there’s details on a new Multi-lateral Well Program incentive meant to get many more legs drilled on wells. Existing incentive programs are extended, and incentives for helium and lithium development have been shifted to a critical minerals incentive program.

Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer delivered her final budget in that position on March 20, a deficit budget based on a 1 per cent growth in GDP the upcoming year.

Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Donna Harpauer delivering her last budget speech. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

 

Pipeline Online has poured through the budget and dug up every nugget possible regarding energy throughout its documents, all laid out in this story. Expect further details in the coming days on the new Multi-lateral Well Program from the ministers responsible.

“The 2024-25 Budget includes $53.8 million for the Ministry of Energy and Resources to support our growing economy with
a focus on Saskatchewan’s world-class natural resources.

Included in this ministry’s budget is $10 million in funding over 10 years for the Public Geoscience initiative, which will support increased exploration for critical minerals. In recognition of the important role of critical minerals in the global economy, the budget introduces the Saskatchewan Critical Mineral Innovation Incentive to support new technology pilot projects. The budget also introduces the complementary Critical Mineral Processing Investment Incentive, which is open to new and expanded value-added processing projects,” Harpauer said.

Saskatchewan’s oil production in 2022-23 came in at 166.7 million barrels, or an average of 458,000 barrels per day. It is forecast to come in at the same number for 2023-24, and forecast to repeat one more time for 2024-2025.

The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) benchmark price is forecast to average US$77.30 per barrel for 2023-24, and is budgeted at US$77 per barrel for 2024-25, hardly moving at all. In contrast, in 2022-23, it averaged US$89.59 per barrel due to the war in Ukraine.

The West Texas Intermediate to Western Canadian Select (WCS) differential is expected to fall, however, which in turn means realized revenue for heavy oil would rise if that turns out to be the case. In 2022-23, the actual WTI differential was 18.9 per cent of WTI. For the fiscal year of 2023-24 ending March 31, it is forecast to be 16.98 per cent. The 2024-25 budget is for a differential of 14.5 per cent.

The budget document notes, “Oil and natural gas revenues are budgeted at $1.1 billion in 2024-25, an increase of $98.8 million (10.3 per cent) from the 2023-24 Budget and an increase of $116.3 million (12.3 per cent) from the 2023-24 third-quarter forecast. This is mainly due to a tighter light-heavy oil price differential, resulting in a higher realized average well-head oil price. The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is scheduled to be operational in 2024, which will improve regional pipeline export capacity, especially for heavier crude.”

It also said, “Revenue from the Resource Surcharge is budgeted to decrease $271.9 million from the 2023-24 Budget, primarily reflecting decreased potash prices in 2024-25. However, revenue from Mineral Disposition Public Offerings and all Other non-renewable resources (including uranium) are forecast to increase by a combined $94.9 million from the 2023-24 Budget, mainly due to increased mineral rights activity tied to the drilling of multi-lateral oil wells and higher uranium pricing and sales volumes.”

The other key resource revenue source is potash. Potash production has been climbing roughly a million tonnes of KCl per year, from 22.8 million in 2022-23, to a forecast 23.9 million in 2023-24, and a budgeted 24.9 million tonnes in 2024-25. However, the potash price is expected to decline slightly next year. In 2022-23, the mine netback price in US$ per KCl tonne was US$562, largely impacted by the war in Urkaine. However, the 2023-24 forecast is an average price of US$284 per tonne. And the budget for 2024-25 is US$268 per tonne.

All these number are based on a Canadian/US Dollar exchange of 74.00 US cents per Loonie in 2023-24 and 74.36 US cents per loonie for 2024-25

The potash numbers are a big deal, because the forecast for the fiscal year ending March 31 is for a $482.5 million deficit. That deficit can pretty much be entirely be accounted for in the shortfall of potash revenues. The 2023-24 budget expected $1.376 billion in potash revenues, but the current forecast is for that number to come in at $730 million, a little over half of was expected. As a result, the $580 million of potash funds that did not materialize more than makes up the forecasted deficit for the fiscal year now ending.

When you add it all up, non-renewable resources are budgeted at $2.686 billion for 2024-25. This is notably down from the budgeted $3.345 billion last year. And last year’s budget was nearly a billion over what is forecast to actually come in by March 31 – just $2.393 billion.

All told, non renewable resources are budgeted to make up 13.5 per cent of provincial revenues for the next fiscal year. Total revenue is budgeted at $19.861 billion. That’s a projected deficit of $273 million, based on budgeted expenditures of $20.135 billion. The deficit is targeted to become a razor-thin $18 million surplus in 2025-26, then $225 million and $340 million in subsequent years.

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Oil and gas incentives extended

In the weeks before the budget was released, the provincial government said it would be extending existing oil and gas incentive programs and launching a new one, the Multi-lateral Well Program.

The budget said, “The existing Oil and Gas Processing Investment Incentive (OGPII) and offers transferable Crown royalty and freehold production tax credits for qualified greenfield or brownfield value-added projects across all segments of Saskatchewan’s oil and gas sectors at a rate of 15 per cent of eligible program costs.

“The 2024-25 Budget extends the program an additional five years – to March 31, 2029. It also increases the program’s total funding cap by $130 million, resulting in an overall increase from a $370-million cap up to a maximum of $500 million in Crown royalty and freehold tax credits awarded.

“Helium and lithium will be removed from OGPII as eligible commodities, as value-added projects related to these sectors will be eligible under the new Critical Minerals Processing Investment Incentive.”

Similarly, the Saskatchewan Petroleum Innovation Incentive (SPII) offers transferable Crown royalty and freehold production tax credits for qualified innovation commercialization projects at a rate of 25 per cent of eligible project costs.

“The 2024-25 Budget extends the SPII new application intake period for an additional five years – to March 31, 2029. It also increases the program’s total funding cap by $70 million, resulting in an overall increase from a $30-million cap up to a maximum of $100 million in royalty credits awarded.

“The program targets a broad range of innovations deployed across all segments of Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industry. Helium and lithium will be removed from SPII as eligible commodities, as innovation projects related to these sectors will be eligible under the new Saskatchewan Critical Minerals Innovation Incentive.”

To that end, “The 2024-25 Budget introduces the Saskatchewan Critical Mineral Innovation Incentive (SCMII), which is designed similar to the highly successful existing SPII program. This program provides transferable Crown royalty and freehold production tax credits at a rate of 25 per cent of eligible program costs. The SCMII applies to both pilot and commercial scaling projects that feature the deployment of novel technologies that can improve resource recovery rates, manage environmental impacts, increase value-added processing or commercialize a byproduct or waste product. The SCMII will share the $100-million SPII program funding cap.

“High-potential and emerging critical minerals that are eligible under the SCMII include: aluminum, cobalt, copper, gallium, helium, lithium, magnesium, nickel, all rare earth elements and zinc. The program will assist in attracting the innovation projects needed to commercialize Saskatchewan’s vast critical minerals resources and will help position the province to achieve the growth targets established in Saskatchewan’s Critical Minerals Strategy.”

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Multi-lateral Well Program details announced

In some of the most active areas of Alberta’s conventional oil production (non-oil sands) multi-lateral wells with numerous legs are rapidly becoming the norm. In Saskatchewan, especially in southeast Saskatchewan, several companies over the last year, have announced drilling wells with up to 8 legs, the most recent being Saturn Oil & Gas. This has largely been occurring in the area around Corning, north of Stoughton, but other companies are drilling up to four legs in the Glen Ewen area, for instance. The provincial government is seeking to incentive this new development.

Alliance Drilling Rig 2 was drilling northeast of Glen Ewen on gorgeous Sept. 29. This was a four-leg well, and would qualify under the new incentive program if it had been drilled after April 1, 2024. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

These wells ensure more production and many more drilling days for the drilling rig. But since a rig drilling a well for 28 days as opposed to a more typical six days, it means ancillary services like pipe hauling, casing, mud, lease-building, rig moving and more are dramatically reduced per active rig, since each of these services go to each rig doing a 28-day well once a month instead of four times a month. But if more rigs are deployed as a result of the incentive, that should help out with overall activity levels.

Here are the details, verbatim:

The 2024-25 Budget introduces the Multi-lateral Well Program, a Crown royalty and freehold production tax volumetric drilling incentive for new oil wells based on the following definitions:

  • An eligible non-deep well can receive a volumetric incentive to a maximum of 16,000 cubic metres (m3) produced (100,637 barrels);
  • An eligible deep well can receive a volumetric incentive to a maximum of 21,000 m3 produced (132,086 barrels);

And

  • An eligible appraisal/exploratory well within a new pre-approved drilling project can receive a volumetric incentive to a maximum of 26,250 m3 produced (165,108 barrels), if at least 10 other new qualifying multi-lateral wells are also drilled as part of the project plan.

This program will encourage new oil well drilling configurations, known as multi-lateral wells, that have the potential to increase oil recovery rates and enable new development opportunities in geological formations that were previously inaccessible or uneconomic.

The program will help ensure that Saskatchewan remains competitive at attracting investment into these new types of wells.

Currently, the majority of horizontal oil wells are drilled as one borehole. The new program design stipulates the increased volumetric level only starts when a minimum of three laterals are drilled, and the maximum volumetric level is provided at five laterals or more. The program also supports exploration by offering a higher volumetric incentive to appraisal wells, the first multi-lateral well drilled in a given geographic/stratigraphic area.

The Multi-lateral Well Program will apply to eligible new wells drilled between April 1, 2024, and March 31, 2028.

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Oil and gas budget discussion

This is the text of the budget document regarding oil and gas:

The economic and fiscal forecasts in the 2024-25 Budget rely on a set of assumptions regarding Canadian, American and global economic growth; commodity prices; and the value of the Canadian dollar. These factors are beyond governments control, yet they notably influence Saskatchewan’s fiscal performance, particularly non-renewable resource revenue. Geopolitical conflict, along with inflation, interest rates, supply chain issues and transportation disruptions, have the potential to materially impact resource revenue.

In an attempt to minimize risk to the fiscal plan, the assumptions used to develop the non-renewable resource forecast are prudent and incorporate a number of private-sector forecasts. Due to the volatile nature of these key external factors, the non-renewable resource revenue forecast will always be subject to risk. This risk is quantified throughout the year.

The WTI oil price is forecast to average US$77.00 per barrel in 2024-25, consistent with private-sector forecasts for the upcoming year. This is a decrease of US$2.50 per barrel from the average price forecast in the 2023-24 Budget and a decrease of US$0.33 from the 2023-24 third-quarter forecast.

WTI oil price is an important benchmark for the oil market and provincial revenue. However, the majority of oil produced in Saskatchewan is heavier and more sour than WTI oil and requires further processing to become refined products. As a result, the majority of Saskatchewan’s oil typically trades at a discount to WTI.

The light-heavy oil price differential – a proxy for the price discount on heavier crude produced in Saskatchewan – is expected to decrease from 23.8 per cent (as a share of WTI prices) in the 2023-24 Budget to 14.5 per cent in 2024-25. This tighter differential is driven by a decrease in availability of heavy crude types from other suppliers in the North American market and improved pipeline capacity and market diversification for Western Canadian crude.

Oil production is forecast at 166.7 million barrels in 2024-25, which is flat compared to the 2023-24 third quarter forecast and down slightly compared to the 2023-24 Budget. The 2024-25 Budget announces a new royalty program to increase the drilling of multi-lateral oil wells, which have the potential to increase oil recovery rates and enable new development opportunities.

The value of the Canadian dollar is projected to stay relatively flat, increasing from an average of 74.35 US cents in the 2023-24 Budget to an average 74.36 US cents in the 2024-25 Budget. A higher exchange rate translates to lower prices in Canadian dollars and lower resource revenues, all else being equal.

For 2024-25, the following sensitivities are estimated:

  • a US$1 per barrel change in the fiscal-year average WTI oil price results in an estimated $17.5 million change in oil revenue;

  • a US$10 per KCl tonne change in the fiscal year average realized potash price results in an estimated $52.6 million change in potash revenue; and

  • a 1 US cent change in the fiscal-year average exchange rate results in an estimated $35.8 million change in non-renewable resource revenue (inverse relationship).

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Output-Based Performance Standards

There is a new revenue line item which falls under the category of “other own-source revenue,” which is generally made up of fees, insurance, investment income and transfers from other governments.

The “Output-Based Performance Standards” is yet another for of climate change carbon tax for large industrial emitters of carbon dioxide. The federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change website describes it as:

The OBPS is designed to put a price on the carbon pollution of industrial facilities that emit 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or more per year, while minimizing international competitiveness and carbon leakage risks from exposure to the federal fuel charge. To minimize competitiveness and carbon leakage risks for additional facilities while maintaining the incentive to reduce their emissions, facilities emitting 10,000 tonnes of CO2e or more in certain sectors can also apply to participate voluntarily in the OBPS.

The OBPS sets an emissions limit for each facility subject to the OBPS (covered facilities). This emissions limit is calculated using an emissions-intensity performance standard (i.e., a set level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of output) for a given product or activity. Facilities that emit less than their emissions limit earn surplus credits they can sell or save for later use. Facilities that emit more than their annual emissions limit must provide compensation for the excess emissions by a prescribed deadline.

By allowing facilities to generate and trade surplus credits for reducing their emissions below the limit, the OBPS ensures that the incentive to reduce emissions created by the carbon pollution price applies to every tonne of emissions from industrial facilities. By only applying the price to emissions above a facility’s emissions limit, the OBPS also limits facilities’ overall costs to help maintain their international competitiveness and minimize carbon leakage.

While it’s a federal climate change tax, the money is  going to the provincial government. On Nov. 22, 2022, the Saskatchewan government put out a press release that noted, “The provincial government received confirmation that a provincial plan has been approved to replace the federally imposed carbon tax on industrial emitters in the province, effective January 1, 2023. The Saskatchewan Output-Based Performance Standards (OBPS) Program meets the requirements for the 2023-2030 federal carbon pricing benchmark, including the addition of the electricity generation and natural gas transmission pipeline sectors.

“All industrial carbon taxes will now stay in Saskatchewan, saving Saskatchewan industry (and the jobs and families these industries support) an estimated $3.7 billion in federal carbon taxes between now and 2030 compared to federal carbon pricing.”

The release added, “The Saskatchewan OBPS Program will also include credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), which supports Saskatchewan’s CCUS strategy. Regulated emitters will have the option to pay into the Saskatchewan Technology Fund, which will create incentives for industry to develop and implement technologies that contribute to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions intensity.”

The 2024-25 Saskatchewan budget says, “Output-Based Performance Standards (OBPS) electricity sector revenue is a new revenue source. OBPS non-electricity sector revenue was reported under Miscellaneous prior to the third quarter of 2023-24.”

And that number is forecast to hit $447.6 million for 2023-24, and budgeted at $351.3 million for 2024-25.

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Ministry costs

The Ministry of Energy and Resources, itself, is one of the smallest line-items among the various ministries. Its 2024-25 budget is $51.3 million, made of of $49 million in operating expenses and $2.3 million in capital expenses.

Central management and services accounts for $25.2 million. Energy regulation is $12.4 million and resources development is $13.7 million.

Notably, the Ministry of Energy and Resources, as the regulator, is largely funded by the industry itself, through fees paid by the industry.

In the Supplementary Estimates, covered under special warrants, for the 2023-24 fiscal year, there was an additional $94.5 million for “Remediation of Contaminated Sites.”

“Additional appropriation was provided by special warrant to increase the environmental liability for the continued clean‐up of the abandoned northern uranium mine sites of Gunnar, Lorado and associated satellite sites,” the budget explained.

 

Pipeline Online provides the in-depth coverage on energy issues in this province that no other media comes close to. It does NOT receive federal journalism subsidies, and it will NOT allow the federal government to limit its freedom of speech, as it is now moving to regulate podcasts. With recent action from Facebook to block news links, it’s important to follow Pipeline Online in other manners. The easiest is to check each morning at PipelineOnline.ca, with the top story posted at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday, and additional coverage throughout the day and weekend. But you can also follow on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can follow editor Brian Zinchuk online at LinkedIn as well (you’ll see more stories that way). You can subscribe to a weekly newsletter. And if you wish to advertise and support this journalism, call 306-461-5599.

 

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New multi-lateral well program part of Saskatchewan’s new investment attraction strategy

Saturn Oil & Gas joins multi-lateral bandwagon, reports year-end results with more than double production