Lord John Browne, BP's chief executive officer, said this morning in Anchorage that "to be viable, Alaskan gas has to be able to compete head-on with other potential sources of supply, including oil. And at the moment it is not competitive."
What is needed, Browne told a Resource Development Council, Alaska Support Industry Alliance and Anchorage Chamber of Commerce breakfast audience, is redistribution of the economic rent the project will generate so that there is enough return to investors to attract the needed investment.
He said BP has tagged gas project costs at $60 billion: $20 billion capital costs; $20 billion operating costs; $20 billion financing costs.
The current goal, he said, is to reduce the pre-tax capital investment cost by 10 percent, $2 billion, through technologies including high-speed welding, higher-strength steel and more efficient carbon dioxide removal.
But, Browne said, even with a 10 percent reduction in pre-tax capital costs, the project will not be commercially viable because of fiscal issues — the way economic rent on the project, the cash generated by a project which is available to pay royalties on the resource, taxes and a return to investors, would be shared.
"As things stand, the current distribution destroys the viability of any such development," Browne said: return to investors is not enough to support the investment.
And that's not something companies can change, he said: it's a public policy call. U.S. and Canadian governments have made policy calls which made a different distribution of the economic rent, he said: production credits for technology to development coalbed methane; incentives for enhanced oil recovery; Canadian measures which allowed development of eastern energy frontiers and tar sands and Mackenzie Valley gas.
The project also needs other things, Browne said: appropriate federal legislation; fiscal stability in Alaska; efficient regulatory process in Canada; relentless attention to costs.
But, Browne said, "it is the commercial reality — the distribution of economic rent — which will decide the project." Browne said it was far too premature to look at the details of redistributing economic rents: but something is needed.