Oil executives expect sustained period of strong crude prices

Nine out of 10 Canadian energy sector executives believe oil prices will remain strong for the next three to five years, according to the results of a recent survey.

Conducted between April 5 and April 18 by ATB Capital Markets, the survey polled 80 executives representing oil and gas exploration and production companies, energy services companies and institutional investors.

Ninety-one per cent of the executives polled said they anticipate the West Texas Intermediate benchmark crude price to average above US$75.99 per barrel for a period of three to five years.

Eighty-eight per cent of oil and gas exploration and production executives surveyed said they expect their own company’s prospects to improve over the next six months, while 58 per cent of energy service executives predict their company will see increased activity levels over the next six months.

Sixty-seven per cent of institutional investors polled predict the energy sector will outperform other equity sectors in the next 12 months.

Crude oil prices one year ago were around US$65 per barrel, but rallied to above US$80 in the fall before sliding back to US$69 in December. Since then, they have been largely on an upward trend, hitting a 52-week high of US$86.97 on April 12. As of midday Thursday, the WTI price hovered around $US79 per barrel.

Adding to the sense of optimism, according to the survey results, are the prospect of forthcoming West coast liquefied natural gas export capabilities as well as new crude pipeline export capacity — ranked as the top two perceived opportunities facing the sector over the next three to five years.

“The recent commissioning of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the expected commissioning of LNG Canada were clearly identified in the spring survey as fundamental drivers of optimism, activity growth, and improving economics,” ATB Capital Markets stated in a report.

More than 60 per cent of survey respondents said they anticipate the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which marked its official opening last week, to adequately meet the sector’s export capacity demands through at least 2028.

However, in spite of the optimism around commodity prices, the ATB survey results show the energy sector’s expectations for growth in 2024 have dampened since last fall. The proportion of energy services companies projecting a year-over-year increase in 2024 field activity dropped from 90 per cent in the fall 2023 survey to 71 per cent in this survey.

This may be in part due to concerns over drought in Western Canada and the potential for water usage restrictions that could impact drilling operations, ATB suggested. The survey results show 54 per cent of energy services respondents fear a severe drought would have a “significant” impact on 2024 activity levels.