Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Bitumen Bubble is back from holiday

With the latest slump in WTI oil prices and the potential nuclear deal with Iran laying a foundation for even further easing (who would have thought "ethical oil" needed "conflict" to be "economically viable", eh?) Alberta is already preparing it's excuses for the next round of budget mayhem. That's right folks, the bitumen bubble is back from holidays!
“We are only now starting to see the costs of the flooding show up on our bottom line. In addition, the bitumen bubble is back from its holiday, highlighting the need to remain focused on building new markets and fiscal prudence as part of our Building Alberta Plan.”
It's still unclear how exactly a depressed price of the overvalued bitumen asset is a "bubble" but I don't think we'll be getting an answer on that from Alberta's top notch gambler economist, Doug Horner, anytime soon. In the meantime Alberta's population is exploding:
Alberta’s population has passed the four million mark; a record 105,200 net migrants came to the province during the 2013 census year.
Alberta has apparently realized though some significant savings in the recycling of old propaganda, as along with the "bitumen bubble" the province is sticking with it's separation of "operational" and "capital" budgets. Thankfully our tax dollars are not going to a team of P.R. professionals hired to make bad news digestible by the "fiscally prudent" population.
Capital plan results were on track with the budget estimate, with capital spending at $2.4 billion. Direct borrowing for capital purposes was $1.7 billion. 
Yet this "economic engine" of a province cuts more and more "operational expenditures" to continue "living within it's means" (despite the loans for "capital spending") because as we all know being rich is all about constantly checking and constraining to make sure you're "living within your means", instead of, you know, increasing spending to meet a higher standard of living:
Circumpolar research has been hit hard by funding cuts the University of Alberta.

The U of A’s grad student association is speaking out after the Canadian Circumpolar Institute was hit by cuts, and the Circumpolar/Boreal Alberta Research funding was eliminated entirely.
Funny how there was no "living within our means" talk when Alberta was actually getting a return on the oilsands from an exponentially rising unidirectional oil price and an almost all-out freeze on "capital spending". I guess the meaning of being "the richest province" has changed now that oil price is bi-directional.

Clearly the Alberta government continues to work hard to ensure that Albertan's don't realize that these "capital" costs will be ever growing and ongoing so long as "oilsands expansion" remains the province's primary goal and the population keeps rising, and are not a "one time" expense as they are being sold. That means expect many more "operational surpluses" and "capital deficits" from now on.

All of the infrastructure spending happening today is to support the population that moved here from the last boom! Remember when rental vacancies were down to 0.1% and bachelor rents upwards of $1200 / month? We didn't have the needed infrastructure then, and we're just catching up to those levels now that we've surpassed them population wise.

So welcome back, Bitumen Bubble, Albertan budget excuses just wouldn't be complete without you. Saudi Alberta - We're living within our means!

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.


  1. Hi Richard. Just how does this madness end? In terms of the larger, global Carbon Bubble, the world seems content to continue defying gravity - for now. I am wondering whether the industrialized and developing nations aren't locked into some fossil fuel extraction paradigm they cannot shake. What risks are the federal and Alberta government exposing us to by recklessly committing us to a truly high-cost, high carbon unconventional petroleum?

  2. Richard, I just stumbled across news reports about a 233-billion barrel shale oil find at Coober Pedy, Australia. By some estimates the field could top out at 400-billion barrels of crude oil. What does that do for the viability of Athabasca's high-cost, high-carbon bitumen?



  3. Hi Mound, you're asking some great questions. I'll need some time to gather the information to provide a proper response. Hang tight.

  4. Here is part 1 of the answer to your questions: http://canadiantrends.blogspot.ca/2013/11/oil-and-economy-understanding-risks.html

  5. Oh thats a great info about a Bitumen toowoomba is really admirable.I appreciate your knowledge and want to be continue with such a nice blog.