Analysis: Trump Versus Clinton - Impact Of Their Energy Policies On The Western Canadian Oilpatch

By Vincent Lauerman

The proposed energy policies of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominees for the 2016 U.S. presidential race, are highly divergent and if adopted in their current forms would have significantly different impacts on the western Canadian oil and gas industry.

The primary reason for their differing energy policies is their views on global climate change. Clinton considers it a top threat to U.S. and global security; Trump is a skeptic.

In a major policy address in Bismarck, N.D., the heart of the U.S. shale oil revolution, on May 26, 2016, Trump laid out his proposed energy policy for the first time. In this address, he reiterated his long held skepticism of climate change and the importance of American energy independence through the rapid development of the country’s oil, gas and coal.

Trump stated that in his first 100 days in office he would pull the U.S. from the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and stop all U.S. government payments to related United Nation programs. These acts would at least partially derail efforts to decrease hydrocarbon usage around the world. The U.S. is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and emerging economies are expecting significant foreign aid from countries such as the U.S. to do their part to cut emissions in the future.

In this case, there is likely to be greater future growth in U.S. and global oil consumption and higher oil prices, a relative boon to the Canadian oilsands industry.

In contrast, the key driver for Clinton’s proposed energy policy, released in September 2015, is the need to combat global climate change. Clinton is highly supportive of both UN and President Barack Obama’s efforts to decrease hydrocarbon consumption in the U.S. and around the world.

Clinton’s overarching aim is to transform the U.S. into “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” To do so, she has suggested two shorter-term goals. The installation of more than half a billion solar panels in the U.S. by the end of her first term, and, by the middle of next decade, for generating capacity from renewable energy sources to equal the electricity needs of every home in America.

While serving as U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton appeared supportive of both the U.S. shale revolution and TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL pipeline to move Canadian oilsands production to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

But Clinton jettisoned support for Keystone XL on the eve of her September energy policy release, and became increasingly anti-fracking as she battled the more liberal Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” Clinton said in response to a college student’s question at a Democratic Party presidential nomination debate in Flint, Michigan, on March 6, 2016.

Assuming Clinton’s new anti-fracking stance is for real, this could open the door for additional Canadian oil and gas exports to the U.S. in the medium-term. Decline rates for shale gas and tight oil resources are high, while it will take time for her other proposed policies to substantially reduce U.S. oil and gas consumption.

The major downside of Trump’s energy policy for western Canadian oil and gas producers is his drive for U.S. energy independence through various means including the lifting of moratoriums on energy production in federal areas. This would likely lead to declining market opportunities for Canadian producers in the U.S. despite growing consumption, making it all the more important that Canada secures overseas markets for both its oil and natural gas.

Unlike Clinton, Trump is a strong supporter of Keystone XL. At the Bismarck event, he said that he would ask TransCanada to renew its permit application. The completion of the southern leg of Keystone XL would provide a boost to western Canadian oil prices by narrowing differentials to North American benchmark West Texas Intermediate.

To conclude, the policies politicians adopt once they gain office are sometimes very different from those that they promise on the campaign trail. That being said, it is difficult to see how any plausible shifts in the energy policies of these two presidential candidates could be so drastic as to tip the scale in favour of Clinton and away from Trump when it comes to their impact on the western Canadian oilpatch.

Vincent Lauerman is president of Geopolitics Central, a Calgary-based consultancy.