Suncor Energy Quickly Put Wildfire Issues to Bed and Turned to a Profit

Taking a quick look at Suncor Energy's (NYSE: SU) most recent earnings release, you can barely notice the fact that it shut in large swaths of production after Fort McMurray was ravaged by wildfires in the second quarter of this year. Rather, the company had quite possibly the best quarter it could have, considering the oil and gas market. Let's look at the numbers for this most recent quarter and where the company will probably go from here.

Image source: Suncor Energy investor presentation

By the numbers


Before making too many comparisons between this quarter and the prior one, just remember that the the company's overall production was significantly hampered from wildfires. For the most part, though, things went exactly as they have at other oil and gas companies this past quarter: Slightly higher price realizations coupled with lower operational costs have improved upstream results, while refining margins narrowed and affected downstream profits.

Data source: Suncor Energy earnings releases. Author's chart.

The highlights

  • Total production from both oil sands and conventional production increased to 778,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day, a 29% jump from the same quarter last year. The noticeable jump in production was attributed mostly to the increased stake in Syncrude that added more than 150,000 barrels per day to overall production, but there were also some modest gains in its exploration and production division thanks to an optimization project at its Terra Nova platform and new wells at its Hibernia facility.
  • Just about all facilities in the Fort McMurray region were up and running at 100%, despite the wildfires that drastically curbed production in the prior quarter.
  • Operational costs across its oil-sands facilities were $22.15 per barrel, the lowest they have been in over a decade. Cash costs at Syncrude also declined from $41.65 per barrel this time last year to $27.65 per barrel.
  • Refinery throughputs also increased thanks to higher utilization, improved reliability, and less maintenance. The overall results for the segment decreased because of lower refining margins, though. Investors can expect a decline in refining this coming quarter, as planned maintenance will result in downtime at Suncor's Montreal and Sarnia refineries.
  • Suncor sold a 49% working interest in its East Tank Farm Development to both the Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations for $497 million. The tank farm is being built in conjunction with Suncor's Fort Hills oil-sands project.
  • Fort Hills is now 70% complete and is on track for first production in late 2017.

What management had to say

Suncor has been very aggressive over the past year or so regarding mergers and acquisitions. As a result, it has built up a decent-sized debt load that has some investors worried. As a result, there have been rumors flying around that the company is looking to shed some assets and shore up its financials. On the company's conference call, CEO Steven Williams quickly put the kibosh on those rumors:

What a Fool believes

Suncor seems to be pushing all the right buttons when it comes to handling an industry downturn. It has been very aggressive in making acquisitions on the cheap and has done a commendable job of lowering operational costs to generate some form of profit and cash flow despite operating mostly oil sands -- a traditionally higher-cost source of oil. There is a little concern that the company may have stretched itself too thin with all of these acquisitions and aggressive capital spending programs, but the company's debt levels aren't that far out of whack from other oil majors. Also, with its lower cost structure, a modest uptick in oil and gas prices could fix a lot of those issues pretty quick.

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Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned.You can follow him at Fool.comor on Twitter, @TylerCroweFool.

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