Oil Sands Keep Sinking

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In a world of collapsing crude prices, no oil sands player is immune.

Suncor Energy (NYSE: SU  ) and Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ  ) , with two of the more advanced-stage, low-cost operations, have both slowed development of these massive operations. Projects in the planning stage, meanwhile, are getting pulled off the table faster than that infamous tablecloth party trick. (The secret is to pull down, not out.)

StatoilHydro (NYSE: STO  ) is scrapping its multi-billion dollar Edmonton-area upgrader, to the chagrin of a certain rail operator, no doubt. With that kind of price tag, it's no wonder that out of seven such projects, only one -- an expansion by Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  ) -- remains in play.

We've been documenting this domino fall since Petro-Canada's (NYSE: PCZ  ) oil sands budget ranneth over back in September. Since then, Nexen (NYSE: NXY  ) has delayed a decision on its Long Lake expansion, the two aforementioned heavyweights slowed their expansions, and Shell has backpedaled on two separate projects. The list of oil sands push-backs stretches ever longer.

This is rapidly becoming an oil play where only those with deep pockets and a long-term time horizon will be able to hang tough. Total SA, which has multiple area projects and has been rumored to be sniffing around Nexen lately, is definitely sticking around. I believe StatoilHydro is similarly committed.

Although its upgrader has been downgraded, the Norwegian giant still has a solid upstream foothold via its North American Oil Sands acquisition. First production, via the less environmentally disruptive "in situ" recovery method, is about two years away. By that time, the bitumen ought to be economic to produce. In the meantime, Statoil can wait for industry cost pressures to plunge, and perhaps build a bitumen upgrader somewhere down the road.

In short, patience and staying power pays when it comes to these long-term oil plays.

StatoilHydro and Total are both Income Investor selections. For more dividend-paying dynamos, take the service for a spin, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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