The Battle for Canada’s Oil Sands

One hundred and seventy billion: That is the number of economically recoverable barrels of oil the Canadian oil sands are estimated to hold. It is a big prize. At $100 per barrel, it is a $17.3 trillion prize, enough to pay the official U.S. federal debt with trillions to spare. In a world of global population growth and “peak oil” constraints, it is an economy-changing, potentially country-changing prize that could skyrocket in value even higher in the years ahead.

But who will benefit from this supposed money-gushing cornucopia?

The Canadian oil sands are so expansive that America’s northern neighbors are practically begging for investors to develop them. “Our oil sands are the largest energy project in the entire world,” said Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver on a recent trip to China. “We simply don’t have enough capital in Canada.”

It was a shocking statement—not because of what he said, but because of where he said it. Traditionally, Canada has looked to the United States for oil infrastructure development. But those days may be ending. When President Obama refused to permit the proposed Keystone pipeline that would have brought oil from Alberta to Texas refineries, he may have unwittingly changed the special relationship.

For now, Canada’s oil is landlocked, with no way to market. Existing pipelines to America are filled to capacity. But hundreds of thousands of extra barrels of oil per day are set to come onto the market over the next half decade as the oil sands operations are built. Trillions of dollars’ of oil will flow somewhere; that much you can be sure of. If America doesn’t want it for political reasons, the oil companies will find another customer.

China is already pointing the way. In January, Reuters reported that Canada’s oil industry is experiencing an “Asian invasion.” Most recently, Chinese government-owned Petro China purchased the Athabasca Oil Sands MacKay River project. It also owns an option agreement to purchase Athabasca’s Dover project. Last July, cnooc, another Chinese state-owned company, paid more than a billion dollars for Opti Canada’s 35 percent stake in its Long Lake project. That project will extract over 70,000 barrels of oil per day when up and running. In 2010, Chinese state-owned Sinopec spent $4.65 billion for a chunk of Syncrude Canada Ltd—one of the world’s largest oil sands mining operations. Sinopec also owns 50 percent of Canada’s Northern Lights project. Not long before, China Investment Corp., a giant state-owned sovereign wealth fund, offered $1.25 billion to help Penn West Energy develop oil sands leases. Canada’s Husky Energy has been owned by interests in Hong Kong for decades.

Full article: The Battle for Canada’s Oil Sands (The Trumpet)