UPDATE 5-Oil industry relieved as Alberta holds royalties steady

Fri Jan 29, 2016 4:24pm EST
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(Adds comment from producer Suncor, stock market close)

By Julie Gordon

CALGARY Jan 29 (Reuters) - Alberta's left-leaning government unveiled a new energy royalty framework on Friday that left rates unchanged on existing oil wells and oil sands projects, alleviating fears that costs would rise to punishing levels amid the worst crude price slump in decades.

The western Canadian province, home to huge oil sands deposits, along with conventional and unconventional oil and natural gas, said the new framework would take effect in 2017, with existing royalty rates remaining in place for 10 years on wells drilled before 2017.

Royalty rates for oil sands projects will not change, but the government pledged more transparency and accountability on costs producers may deduct when paying royalties.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley noted the province's position in the global market had changed dramatically in recent years, with its biggest customer, the United States, now also its biggest competitor.

"It's not the time to reach out and make a big money grab," she told reporters, adding the government had accepted the panel's recommendations and incremental increases in royalty rates on new wells would go into the province's savings fund.

Oil sands producers, which have some of the highest costs globally, have been hit especially hard by the price crash, with Western Canada Select heavy crude sinking to as low as $13.25 a barrel this month.

Suncor Energy, Canada's largest oil and gas company, said keeping the current oil sands royalty regime provides the certainty investors need to make long-term decisions.   Continued...