Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) of Canada welcomes US President Barack Obama to the G8 Summit at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario, on June 25, 2010.
The recently announced high-profile oil and gas acquisitions by Chinese state-controlled companies highlight the numerous opportunities for the US and Canada to both partner and compete in global energy markets.
China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) is seeking to acquire Calgary based Nexen, a medium-sized firm by global standards with international operations, and Sinopec – a state-controlled Chinese oil and chemical company – is looking to buy Canadian oil and gas company Talisman’s North Sea assets.
“Exporting energy to China is not a zero sum game,” Peter Kiernan, Lead Analyst, Energy at the Economist Intelligence Unit recently told Breaking Energy. If Canada can get pipelines constructed to transport crude from oil sands developments to the coast for export to higher value Asian markets – which is no easy task and would take several years – the volumes of oil going from Canada to the US would not vanish, he said.
Post US elections, when Keystone gets reconsidered, there is decent chance it will get approved regardless of which party wins,” – Kiernan
As the US produces more oil domestically from unconventional sources like the Bakken, fewer barrels need to be imported. This decreased reliance on foreign oil is often portrayed as a win for the US when Opec imports are displaced, but increasing domestic output also throttles back imports from the United States’ northern neighbor, NAFTA partner and fellow NATO member, leaving Canada to consider alternate markets.
The Keystone pipeline would likely be completed before the two leading Canadian oil sands export routes – Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain, said Kiernan.
“Post US elections, when Keystone gets reconsidered, there is decent chance it will get approved regardless of which party wins – the southern leg has already been approved,” he pointed out.
Keystone – which would transport crude from oil sands in Alberta to the US Gulf Coast – is bitterly opposed by numerous groups and has become a serious election issue. But opposition to the Canadian west coast routes – that would both terminate in British Columbia – could be even more contentious, with opposition led by environmental groups, first nations representatives, and not least, BC residents.
Some have proposed the US and Canada collaborate on permitting and exporting energy within a formalized agreement similar to NAFTA. If Mexico were included, this North American energy alliance could serve as an Opec counterweight, Manhattan Institute Adjunct Fellow Mark Mills argues in a new report entitled “Unleashing the North American Energy Colossus.”
Read additional Breaking Energy coverage of the Manhattan Institute report and expert reactions to it during a recently-held Capitol Hill forum here.
At the end of the day however, the resources are found, produced, transported and exported by private companies operating in a global system. “Markets and prices will ultimately decide where the oil goes,” Kiernan said.