Canada's oil sands cash flows set to drop by $21 billion

Canada's oil sands cash flows set to drop by $21 billionCanada's oil sands cash flows are set to drop by $21 billion in the next two years, a report published Tuesday by energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie shows.

According to the analysts, current operational costs for producers have reached $37 per barrel for in-situ projects and $40 per barrel for mining projects.

And with benchmark U.S. crude trading around $50 a barrel, down from more than $100 in June, the agency estimates Alberta-based firms will see their cash flow fall by $21 billion in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Callan McMahon, principal analyst for Wood Mackenzie, says that even if projects temporarily operate at a loss, shut-ins are not expected. “And with the costs sunk, projects totalling 458,000 b/d of bitumen are set to start production in 2015 – 2016,” he adds.

But some of the most well-funded and experienced players in Alberta’s energy sector, hit by the sharp plunge in benchmark oil prices since last summer, are already feeling the pinch.

On Monday, Royal Dutch Shell PLC (LON:RDSA) scrapped plans for its long-delayed Pierre River oil sands mine, north of Fort McMurray, pulling the plug on a 200,000 barrel-a-day project.

The firm joins Canadian Natural Resources (TSX, NYSE:CNQ), Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE), Ivanhoe Energy (TSX:IE) and others forced to freeze growth plans as they seek to protect dwindling cash flows and investor dividends in the face of the eight-month price rout.