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Falling oil-by-rail shipments could hurt Alberta’s plan to clear backlog

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The push by oil companies in Western Canada to ship oil by rail has lost its momentum, which could undermine the Alberta government’s attempts to clear the backlog of crude in the province.

The amount of oil transported by rail set records throughout much of 2018, but preliminary data for 2019 shows a noticeable drop in activity. 

Weekly shipping figures from both CN Rail and CP Rail show declining loads of petroleum products. Crude by rail likely hit another record high in December at about 340,000 barrels per day, but dropped by about 25 per cent in January, according to Martin King, an independent energy analyst.

« In January, they’ve ticked down a little bit and certainly the very last week of January, going into the start of February, they’ve come down very sharply, » said King in an interview.

The weekly data from the railways includes several different oil and gas products, but provides a rough idea about crude-by-rail volumes. Official figures from the National Energy Board won’t be known for a few months.

Data suggests crude-by-rail volumes could be falling since the start the 2019 in Western Canada. (Martin King)

The Alberta government’s decision to mandate a cut in oil production is cited as the main culprit for the drop. The curtailment has boosted prices in Western Canada to within $10 US of prices in the United States. Typically, shipping oil by rail costs between $15-20 per barrel from Alberta to refineries in the U.S., so Canadian oil prices need be much lower to cover the transportation cost.

« The differentials have narrowed so much, which is what the whole curtailment was about, but they’ve narrowed too much, » said King about companies wanting to use trains to export oil.

The independent energy analyst says the differentials between oil prices in Alberta compared to U.S. benchmarks are too narrow for companies who want to ship crude by rail. 1:13

Crude-by-rail shipments are expected to fall further this month, as Imperial Oil has said it could halt all of its train shipments because they’re no longer economical.

Imperial shipped 168,000 barrels per day on rails in December but cut the amount to about 90,000 on rails in January. The company said it plans to ship « at or near » zero barrels by rail in February.

The downturn you’re seeing now could be short-lived, but we don’t know how the Venezuelan situation is going to turn out.– Martin King, energy analyst

The Alberta government chose to cut oil production in the province to reduce the backlog of crude in the province and boost prices, which were trading more than $50 US below American prices near the end of 2018. However, the backlog may be harder to clear if crude-by-rail volumes continue to decline.

« Crude by rail should be helping to alleviate this situation in the province but because of the drastic, dramatic manipulation in the market, takeaway capacity is now being idled, » chief executive Rich Kruger said during a recent conference call with investors.

Imperial has staunchly opposed the government’s curtailment policy. So too has Suncor, which also blasted the policy for having the opposite impact to what the government wanted to achieve.

« If you look at what’s happened, the differential corrected — and over-corrected — very quickly and the unintended consequence of that is … rail economics are severely damaged and a lot of the rail movements are stopping or have stopped, » said chief executive officer Steve Williams during a conference call with investors.

Hundreds of oil tank cars are waiting to be loaded at a terminal near the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Dave Rae/CBC)

The Alberta government estimated storage levels decreased by about one million barrels per week since the start of 2019. Clearing that much oil in the coming months may be more difficult since « nearly 65 per cent of January’s drawdown of [oil] was supported by crude-by-rail which will not be there in February, » said AltaCorp Capital in a research note on Wednesday.

Energy data group Genscape says inventories in Alberta climbed by about seven per cent between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.

Alberta is easing back on its curtailment plan for February and if that continues in the months ahead, analysts say prices in Alberta could begin to lower and crude-by-rail volumes pick up once again.

« Last week, we eased oil production limits ahead of schedule, and we will continue to monitor this closely and adjust as necessary, » government spokesperson Mike McKinnon said in an emailed statement.

« We expect the differential to settle at a more sustainable level, and we continue moving forward with long-term solutions like our investment in rail and our continued fight for pipelines. »

An added wrinkle to the equation is how much refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast will pay for heavy oil following American sanctions on Venezuela. The refineries that process heavy oil mostly rely on Canada, Mexico and Venezuela for their supply. With Venezuela out of the equation and production in Mexico slowly decreasing, refineries may pay a premium for heavy oil out of Western Canada.

That situation could reverse the sagging crude-by-rail numbers.

« The downturn you’re seeing now could be short-lived, but we don’t know how the Venezuelan situation is going to turn out, » said King, the independent energy analyst.

Oil exports by rail climbed in 2018 as oil production increased and pipelines operated at full capacity.

The Alberta government announced in late November it plans to purchase as many as 7,000 tank cars to meet its goal of shipping an additional 120,000 barrels of oil a day by train. The majority of the train cars are expected to arrive in 2020, although details about whether any contracts have been signed have yet to be announced.

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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