Crude Observations

Cheers to Normal(ish) Haircuts

So here we are entering Week 12 of lockdown, pandemic stay at home day 77, which now makes this self-isolation 2 days longer than that stint in jail in Tijuana a decade or so ago… Oh wait, that’s wrong. It wasn’t a decade ago and it wasn’t even me. But sometimes it feels like it, doesn’t it? Jail? Lockdown? Weird holiday’ish time?


Okay, for the record (and any subsequent internet searches) – I have never been in jail. Not here, not Mexico, not anywhere. And certainly not any period of time approaching 77 days, or even 7.7 or 0.77 days. There was that one time that things went a little hairy, but even then…


In all seriousness though, there have been times in the past 12 weeks when this whole thing has felt like a sentence, but also times of great levity and fun. Fortunately that seems to more the case now than it was before, so things are improving, even in the face of uncertainty in numbers, fear of a second wave and varying levels of chaos south of the border (not Tijuana this time, a bit north, and east, of there).


The big news this week of course has nothing to do with energy, mergers and acquisitions, banks, capital markets, production numbers, consumption, OPEC ++++, Russia or Saudi Arabia.


No, the big news this week is that I got a haircut, which as we all know means that things are going back to normal now.  Right? I mean it’s a sign at least? Like, my wife made a TikTok and I no longer have my mini man-bun. That’s got to mean something – a leading indicator shall we say?


We do seem to be opening up, the economy is coming back to life, restaurants are back in some sort of business.


Which got me thinking, aside from my manicured eyebrows, are there other indicators that life is getting back to normal and the world is pulling itself out of its funk? And how many of them are there? Can you find them anywhere you think to look or do you have to turn over a few rocks (and hope a Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate doesn’t crawl out!)? So many questions and, as expected, quite a few off the wall answers.


Let’s take a walk…


The top 10 signs your pandemic life is going back to normal(ish).


  1. Partisanship is back. Dammit.


Sadly, this is the most predictable one and the most annoying. For a good couple of months, particularly here in Canada, we had seen partisanship be set aside in pursuit of a common goal: flattening the curve to allow the health system to deal with the potential influx of pandemic patients. And it worked. Curves have been flattened across the country and supports have been enacted to help all those affected by the pandemic, whether it’s health care workers, the job-affected, businesses, seniors, students, pets – everyone has access to a little capital (well almost everyone). But now, with the flattening comes the reckoning and the partisanship and the judging. And it seems like as soon as this first phase of the pandemic is deemed almost over, the ugliness we knew beforehand is back. This is especially true at the federal level where the official opposition has mounted an all-out offensive against the Trudeau government’s handling of the pandemic, complete with off the wall charges of complicity with the government of China to raging about deficits. This of course is to be expected – it’s their job (hello NDP – anyone home?), it’s just a bit disappointing that it seemed to just start up full throttle – a gradual ramp up of rhetoric would have been appreciated.


  1. Toronto is once again the centre of the known universe


Let me ask, how many of my dear readers had heard of Trinity Bellwoods Park before last Saturday. I thought so. And by the way, if you don’t live in Toronto and have your hand up, you are lying. But, throw a bunch of laneway-pooping yahoos into a central Toronto park and by the media attention you’d think it was the only park in the entire country. Look, I know it’s a big park (for Toronto) and that the irresponsible yahoos who went there were clearly not following proper rules, but can we give it a rest already? There are city parks located across the country that see similar traffic and were not as breathlessly covered as the old TBP as it’s affectionately called (it’s not, I invented that), but vraiment people. Stanley Park, Prince’s Island Park, Wascana Park, Mount Royal, Assiniboine Park, Fish Creek Park – these are all iconic places where Canadians gather and practice appropriate social distancing. If you are going to be picked up by CNN, maybe point that out. But I guess my point is, we have spent the better part of three months tracking the spread of a virus across the country, learning about areas that are doing a good job or places like the North Shore of Vancouver where there are a lot seniors facilities or where Brooks Alberta is and where our meat comes from, or driveway beer parties in Nepean but then “Boom”, Toronto is back front and centre. So long Nanton – we had lots of opinions about you for a while.


  1. Humour – we’ve now officially heard all the jokes


Humans are funny creatures. Yes I know, eye roll worthy pun. But hear me out. When faced with a proliferation of bad news we are excellent at facing it down with what can only be termed Gallows Humour. It’s a coping mechanism – when faced with the obvious demise of the entire human race, we may as well make light of it. So you get the whole tsunami of memes highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly of quarantine. You get the murder hornets. Sniper monkeys (not a real thing). Monkeys stealing COVID19 samples in India (actually a thing). Cinqo de maio jokes (guilty as charged). But eventually, we’ve heard all the jokes and read all the memes. Which means it’s time to open things up, if only to get some new material given how awkward it’s all going to be. I have to tell you, I for one am looking forward to being able to go to a 50% capacity plexiglass enclosed Calgary restaurant and place the following order – “I’ll have a Corona please, hold the virus”


  1. The number of articles and opinion pieces telling us how different the world will be are proliferating


Admit it. Things have been different for a while now. Working from home, where you can, has been a novel experience. Being in the office seems so passe, like why would anyone ever go back to the old way of working. And it’s true. Many of us have discovered the fun and excitement of truncated work days, mega-productivity (at least in our minds) and the ability to work wearing only the top half of a suit. But forgive me for saying this out loud – it ain’t gonna last. I think the likelihood of a permanent change in how people will work is in inverse proportion to the number of pundits and deep thinkers positing just that. Will I work out of the home more? Maybe. Will I walk away from my lease so that I can sit in a converted bedroom and type like a madman for a few hours a day? No. What about my clients? What are they doing. Are banks going to close all their branches and have all banking done remotely? No. Humans are social animals. We live to interact, to exchange ideas, to be around other living and breathing beings, sharing ideas, breaking bread, having coffee, whiteboarding 4 x 4 matrices and developing SWOT tables. You can only hold down the irrepressible so long. It will take some time, but to expect that some gigantic secular shift in how humans interact, work and play has occurred because we all voluntarily stayed home strikes me as a bit naïve. The more people tell me that everything has changed, the more assured I am they have not as much as is being sold to me.


  1. Ideology takes a backseat to expediency


I was originally going to call this “politicians are doing politician things” but the title I am using seems way more sophisticated. Some examples?


Well here in Canada, at the federal level, the Federal NDP just traded 10 days of unenforceable federal paid sick leave for the subversion of democracy. Put another way, they had a pet project that the Liberals said they would push if the NDP supported dismissing parliament until September. Imagine that. Canada is now the only government not sitting during the pandemic. At least the MPs can get a start on summer barbecue season though – country average of 15 people or less!


Here in Alberta, we had the UCP (the party, not the government) applying for the Federal wage subsidy to pay their employees because donations were down – from last year’s levels during an election (eye roll). What? I get they don’t want to lay people off, but really? It’s eight people. The maximum cash they can get is an annual $58k per employee adjusted for three months or $125,000. Raise some money – don’t take my tax dollars, and don’t make non-party members foot that bill. If I wanted to support the UCP, I would donate. Enough.  Our business hardly qualifies for any of these programs yet we continue to pay taxes. How is this even remotely close to conservative ideology. This sends the exact wrong entitled message that they accuse other parties to the left of them of and said they were leaving behind from the old PC days. Bad optics and disappointing.


  1. Pipeline politics is once again front and centre


We were lucky. It was quiet for a bit. TC Energy and the Alberta government thought they could slip Keystone XL across the border under cover of darkness but it turns out that the courts in the US were having none of that nonsense, so there. Latest setback of course was just this morning when an appeals court in California upheld a lower court ruling that put the project on hold. Never mind Joe Biden messing around. Turning to other projects we had the arson on the TransMountain equipment last week followed of course by the UCP energy minster’s musing on a podcast that pandemic lockdowns are good for pipeline construction because protests are limited by gathering sizes. While certainly an ill-advised comment, there is no denying it’s veracity. That said, the attention it drew was, shall we say, undesirable. When the government elected to double down on the comments rather than acknowledge the right to peaceful protest, you had to knew the protest game was on as even Greta took time from her CNN panelist career to mock our pipeline dreams and aspirations. As restrictions are lifted we will no doubt see the consequences of this and watch pipelines rise up yet again in the political consciousness to an outsized importance. It’s all so 2019. See? Back to normal.


  1. Zoom calls are dying


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I sense the days of the 1000 person Zoom call are coming to a rapid close. My bi-weekly family all has become ad hoc, virtual dinner parties are starting to be replaced by back yard pints, at least until the bugs get too bad then we will all be back inside. As with any technology that isn’t continually evolving, the novelty wears off, especially as people’s hair gets worse and otherwise self-respecting professionals lose their minds when they find out that “ratemyskyperoom” has only given them a 4/10 because of the fake bookcases, or the poor lighting and lack of plants. Two weeks ago, all meetings were via Zoom or Teams. This week half requested “old school” calls. The path to normalization continues.


  1. The Road to the Stanley Cup will not go through Toronto


For Canadians, this simple fact is by far the most compelling indication that the world is returning to normal and balance has been restored to the universe. Yes, Toronto may be the centre of the parkly universe, but the likelihood of the truncated NHL playoff season being played there is slim to none, raising the very real possibility that in an extended Toronto playoff run, long suffering Leafs fans will have to settle for sitting inside these silly circles at their most famous park watching an elimination game on a giant outdoor projector screen. If they even make it that far, because let’s face it, it ain’t happening. Sorry.


  1. NFL


By far the biggest leading indicator that the world is retuning to normal and rotating properly about its axis is the actions of the NFL. The NFL is the strongest brand in the world. Stronger than Apple and as a monolith more intimidating than China. Since early February, the actions of the NFL have shown an entity determined to carry on as normally as possible, starting with the virtual draft, to the opening of training facilities, it has been go-time for NFL football all the way through the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, there will be no attendance at games – my prediction is that ends by US Thanksgiving BTW – but if the NFL is saying the season goes on as planned, it will.


  1. I got a haircut


Simple as that. Oh, and I’ll be hitting the office next week for at least a day or two. Back to normal(ish).


Office Cat


Office act has figured out that I will be abandoning him more regularly starting next week so he is doing what all cats do. Secretly mocking me, napping and generally treating me like the vegetables we drop on the floor for him to (not) eat. Sigh.


Stormont Capital Crude Coffee


We had the sixth edition of this last Tuesday at 10 AM and it was another great conversation.


Topics included… Whether we thought things would go back to normal and how much work life would change post pandemic. Go figure!


This week I promise to track down another interesting guest who isn’t me, although I reserve the right to blather away about stuff I want to talk about.


Prices as at May 29, 2020

  • Oil
    • Oil storage was… up? (that was expected – except by the market)
    • Production was down
    • OPEC+++++ cuts start biting
  • Natural Gas
    • Storage was up, historically very high; consumption down; production flat; exports flat.
  • WTI Crude: $35.19 ($33.56)
  • Western Canada Select: $28.09 ($23.96)
  • AECO Spot: $1.854 ($1.863)
  • NYMEX Gas: $1.862 ($1.893)
  • US/Canadian Dollar: $0.7256 ($0.7170)



  • As at May 22, 2020, US crude oil supplies were at 534.4 million barrels, an increase of 7.9 million barrels from the previous week and a increase of 57.9 million barrels from last year.
    • The number of days oil supply in storage is 41.7 compared to 28.7 last year at this time.
    • Production was down 100k for the week at 11.400 million barrels per day. Production last year at the same time was 12.300 million barrels per day.
    • Imports rose to 7.200 million barrels from 5.197 million barrels per day compared to 6.862 million barrels per day last year.
    • Crude exports from the US fell to 3.176 million barrels per day from 3.239 million barrels per day last week compared to 3.317 million barrels per day a year ago
    • Canadian exports to the US rose to 3.274 million barrels a day from 2.946 million barrels per day last week
    • Refinery inputs increased during the current week to 12.991 million barrels per day
  • As at May 22, 2020, US natural gas in storage was 2,612 billion cubic feet (Bcf), which is 19% above the 5-year average and about 42% higher than last year’s level, following an implied net injection of 109 Bcf during the report week
    • Overall U.S. natural gas consumption was flat during the report week.
    • Production was down 1% for the week. Imports from Canada rose 0.2% from the week before. Exports to Mexico were down 1.3%.
    • LNG exports totaled 43 Bcf
  • As of May 29, 2020, the Canadian rig count decreased 1 to 20 (AB – 10; BC – 6; SK – 2; MB – 0; Other – 2). Rig count for the same period last year was 58.
  • US Onshore Oil rig count at May 29, 2020 is at 222, down 15 from the week prior.
    • Peak rig count was October 10, 2014 at 1,609
  • Natural gas rigs drilling in the United States is down 2 at 77
    • Peak rig count before the downturn was November 11, 2014 at 356 (note the actual peak gas rig count was 1,606 on August 29, 2008)
  • Offshore rig count was down 0 at 12.
    • Offshore peak rig count at January 1, 2015 was 55

US split of Oil vs Gas rigs is 86%/14%, in Canada the split is 66%/34%


Trump Watch: No mask. Taken to the woodshed by Twitter

Kenney Watch (new!): Lobbying Bettman with reduced quarantine for “Essential worker” NHL’ers

Trudeau Watch (for balance): Early summer holiday.

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