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Canadian companies may double down on oilsands after Total writes off $9.3B in assets: analysts –



Earlier this week, French energy giant Total announced it would write off $9.3-billion worth of oilsands assets in Alberta and cancel its oil lobby membership in the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Writedowns would include $7.3-billion related to its ownership in the Fort Hills oilsands mine in northern Alberta, and a 50 per cent stake in the ConocoPhillips-operated Surmont thermal oilsands project.

The moves reflect the Paris-based company’s dissatisfaction with the performance of its assets over the last number of years, said Richard Masson, chair of the World Petroleum Council.

“I think about the Fort Hill project in particular … Total has been very unhappy with that asset’s performance, [among others],” Masson said, citing capital cost overruns and curtailed oil production.

“So I think, as an international major, they look at the world and they say, ‘What things are we going to do to try and align with climate change?’

“The asset they had that wasn’t giving them good performance is the one they were prepared to take a big hit to.”

‘Stranded’ oil reserves

On Wednesday, Total said it was leaving the Canadian oil lobby because of a “misalignment” between the company’s climate ambition statement and CAPP’s public positions, adding that it considered oil reserves with high production costs to be produced more than 20 years in the future to be “stranded.”

While Masson said he didn’t feel that would be a dominant theme in the Canadian oilsands moving forward, Total didn’t represent the first example of an international company shifting focus away from those assets.

In 2017, Royal Dutch Shell struck a $12.74-billion deal with Canadian Natural Resources, stating at the time that the company did not have the scale or capability to remain in the oilsands long-term.

“What’s happening, in my mind, in [both] of those instances, both of those companies are international majors with big retail presences. Shell has gas stations around the world, as does Total,” Masson said.

“They do not want to see boycotts, they do not want to see anything that affects their brand in a negative way.”

Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell, said in 2017 that the oilsands were no longer a strategic fit for his company in the long run. (Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

Kevin Birn, a Calgary-based analyst with IHS Markit, said the oilsands emerged, in part, from a world in which oil was in short supply. Today, he said, the market has changed.

“Companies like Total that are big and integrated will shift their priorities from one resource to another, where they think they have a competitive advantage,” Birn said.

“So you see a number of companies moving their portfolios away from the oilsands, but you also see Canadian companies doubling down on those assets because they feel they have a competitive advantage.”

With the Fort Hill project now a lower value on Total’s books, Masson said he expected that someone would soon try to make a deal to buy those assets.

“It’s easier for Total to say, okay, we’re going to take, I don’t know, 50 or 60 cents on the dollar for what we’ve paid for these things now that they’ve been written down so far,” he said.

“It may be that we see these assets change hands, probably to a Canadian company. And overall, that could be a good thing for Canada.”

Earlier this week, IHS Markit released its latest forecast for oilsands production growth, continuing a decade-long trend of industry experts projecting a less optimistic outlook for the sector.

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Egypt upholds death sentence for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures



Egypt’s highest civilian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters, judicial sources said.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, means the 12 men could face execution pending approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They include Abdul Rahman Al-Bar, commonly described as the group’s mufti or top religious scholar, Mohamed El-Beltagi, a former member of parliament, and Osama Yassin, a former minister.

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have been sentenced to death in other cases related to the unrest that followed the military’s ousting of Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, but the Court of Cassation ordered retrials.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of executions in Egypt, with at least 51 carried out so far this year according to Amnesty International.

“Instead of continuing to escalate their use of the death penalty by upholding death sentences following convictions in grossly unfair mass trials Egyptian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Monday’s ruling relates to a mass trial of hundreds of suspects accused of murder and incitement of violence during pro-Brotherhood protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo in the weeks after Mursi’s overthrow.

In September 2018, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced 75 people to death and issued varying jail terms for more than 600 others. Many defendants were tried in absentia.

Forty-four of those sentenced to death appealed to the Court of Cassation. Thirty-one had their sentences changed to life in prison, while death sentences were upheld for 12 others.

A final defendant, the senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian, died in prison in Cairo in August 2020. Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died in prison in 2019.

The court also upheld jail terms for many other defendants including a life sentence for Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Brotherhood, and a 10-year jail term for Mursi’s son Osama, the judicial sources said.


(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

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Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.

The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.

The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.

“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.

“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.


(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Man with 39 wive dies in India



A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”


(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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