Skip to comments.China Emerging as U.S. Rival for Canada's Oil
Posted on 12/23/2004 10:11:04 AM PST by Destro
China Emerging as U.S. Rival for Canada's Oil
By SIMON ROMERO
Published: December 23, 2004
CALGARY, Alberta, Dec. 21 - China's thirst for oil has brought it to the doorstep of the United States.
Chinese energy companies are on the verge of striking ambitious deals in Canada in efforts to win access to some of the most prized oil reserves in North America.
The deals may create unease for the first time since the 1970's in the traditionally smooth energy relationship between the United States and Canada.
Canada, the largest source of imported oil for the United States, has historically sent almost all its exports of oil south by pipeline to help quench America's thirst for energy. But that arrangement may be about to change as China, which has surpassed Japan as the second-largest market for oil, flexes its muscle in attempts to secure oil, even in places like the cold boreal forests of northern Alberta, where the oil has to be sucked out of the sticky, sandy soil.
"The China outlet would change our dynamic," said Murray Smith, a former Alberta energy minister who was appointed this month to be the province's representative in Washington, a new position. Mr. Smith said he estimated that Canada could eventually export as many as one million barrels a day to China out of potential exports of more than three million barrels a day.
"Our main link would still be with the U.S. but this would give us multiple markets and competition for a prized resource," Mr. Smith said. Delegations of senior executives from China's largest oil companies have been making frequent appearances in recent weeks here in Calgary, Canada's bustling energy capital, for talks on ventures that would send oil extracted from the oil sands in the northern reaches of the energy-rich province of Alberta to new ports in western Canada and onward by tanker to China.
Chinese companies are also said to be considering direct investments in the oil sands, by buying into existing producers or acquiring companies with leases to produce oil in the region. In all, there are nearly half a dozen deals in consideration, initially valued at $2 billion and potentially much more, according to senior executives at energy companies here.
One preliminary agreement could be signed in early January. A spokesman for the Department of Energy in Washington said officials were monitoring the talks but declined to comment further.
China's appetite for Canadian oil derives from its own insatiable domestic energy demand, which has sent oil imports soaring 40 percent in the first half of this year over the period a year ago. China's attempts to diversify its sources of oil have already led to several foreign exploration projects in places considered on the periphery of the global oil industry like Sudan, Peru and Syria.
In Calgary, however, the negotiations with China have focused on the oil sands, an unconventional but increasingly important source of energy for the United States. Higher oil prices have recently made oil sands projects profitable, justifying the expense of the untraditional methods of producing oil from the sands. Large-scale mining and drilling operations are required to suck a viscous substance called bitumen out of the soil.
"China's gone after the low-hanging fruit so far," said Gal Luft, a Washington-based authority on energy security issues who is writing a book on China's search for oil supplies around the world. "Now they're entering another level of ambition, in places such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada that are well within the American sphere."
Canada's oil production from the sands surpassed one million barrels a day this year and was expected to reach three million barrels within a decade. The bulk of output is exported to the Midwestern United States. That flow pushed Canada ahead of Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela this year as the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States, with average exports of 1.6 million barrels a day.
Even so, there is the perception among many in Alberta's oil patch that Canada's rapidly growing energy industry remains an afterthought for most Americans. That might change, industry analysts say, if Canada were to start exporting oil elsewhere.
"A China agreement might serve as a wake-up call for the U.S.," said Bob Dunbar, an independent energy consultant here who until recently followed oil issues at the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
Executives at energy companies and investment banks in Calgary say an agreement with the Chinese could materialize as early as next month. Ian La Couvee, a spokesman for Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, said it was in talks to offer a Chinese company a 49 percent stake in a 720-mile pipeline planned between northern Alberta and the northwest coast of British Columbia.
The pipeline project, which is expected to cost at least $2 billion, would send as much as 80 percent of its capacity of 400,000 barrels a day to China with the remainder going to California refineries. Sinopec, one of China's largest oil companies, was said by executives briefed on the talks to be the likeliest Chinese company in the project.
A rival Canadian pipeline company, Terasen, meanwhile, has held its own talks with Sinopec and the China National Petroleum Corporation about joining forces to increase the capacity of an existing pipeline to Vancouver. Richard Ballantyne, president of Terasen, said it had supplied almost a dozen tankers this year to help Chinese refineries determine their ability to process the Alberta crude oil blends.
"There's been significant interest so far, but the way I understand it, their refineries are still better suited to handling Middle Eastern crude than ours," Mr. Ballantyne said. "That has to change if they're intent on diversifying their sources of oil."
Separately, Marcel Coutu, the chief executive of the Canadian Oil Sands Trust, a company that owns part of one of the largest oil sands ventures in the tundralike region around the city of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, said he had recently met with officials from PetroChina, one of China's several state-controlled energy concerns, and had agreed to send it trial shipments of oil.
In an interview, Mr. Coutu described PetroChina's interest in a deal as very serious, but he declined to say when one might materialize. "China can become one of our capital sources, enabling us to go a bit further afield than the New York market for our financing," Mr. Coutu said.
Additionally, Chinese companies are also said to be considering investments in smaller Calgary-based companies, like UTS Energy, that have approved leasing permits for parts of the oil sands. Officials from the Chinese companies said to be negotiating in Calgary - PetroChina, Sinopec and CNPC - did not respond to requests for comment.
Wilfred Gobert, vice chairman of Peters & Company, a Calgary investment bank, said Canada's main attractions for the Chinese are the stability of its political system and its sizable reserves. Canada ranks behind only Saudi Arabia in established petroleum reserves, now that its oil sands are included in international estimates of Canadian oil resources.
Before prices rose and the United States expanded its calculation for estimates of reserves, oil sands were often scoffed at as an uneconomical way to produce oil. They still involve risks not normally associated with conventional oil exploration.
Large amounts of capital are necessary to produce oil from the sands, with companies having to acquire large shovels, trucks, specialized drilling equipment or supplies of natural gas to make steam before producing one barrel of oil. So, the price of oil needs to remain elevated, at a level of $30 a barrel or so, for ventures to remain profitable.
[Oil prices for February delivery slumped 3.3 percent, to $44.24 a barrel, in New York on Wednesday, the biggest slide in two weeks.]
An entry into Canada would assure the Chinese of a steady flow of oil, even if the profit margins from the activities were to pale in comparison to what the international oil companies expect from their investments, said Kang Wu, a fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu who follows China's energy industry. "For China it is foremost about securing supply and secondly about profits," he said. "That explains the incentive in going so far abroad."
China's growing demand for oil is responsible for much of the increase in worldwide prices in the last year. Mr. Kang of the East-West Center estimates that demand in China could grow from 6 million barrels a day to as much as 11.5 million barrels within a decade. China's domestic production is expected to remain nearly stagnant, Mr. Kang said, resulting in aggressive efforts to import more oil from sources like Canada.
"China needs oil resources and has a big market," Qiu Xianghua, a vice president at Sinopec, said in a speech in Toronto this month. "Canada needs markets."
Alberta, a province of 3.1 million people, is keenly aware of the potential for Chinese involvement even as American companies like Exxon Mobil, Burlington Resources and Devon Energy remain prominent in its energy industry. Ralph Klein, the premier of Alberta, traveled to Beijing in June to drum up investment in the tar sands.
And yet officials and authorities on Canadian energy supplies are cautious not to suggest that Canada will ever turn off the spigot to the United States. At a time of a highly competitive market for global oil, in fact, some analysts see greater interest in Alberta's oil reserves as a healthy avenue for China to explore, even if it were to push the United States to seek an even greater diversity for its own energy needs.
"The pipeline system that connects Alberta to the U.S. isn't going to be lifted out of the ground and put into the Pacific," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "The flows to the U.S. will continue, but it should be expected and welcomed for China to meet the challenge of its growing dependence on imported oil."
Still, the prospect of dealing with China has many here pondering relations with the United States. The last time any significant oil-related friction arose between the nations was in the 1970's, when Ottawa became concerned over what it perceived as too much American control over Canadian oil, leading to greater federal involvement in the oil industry.
"Watch the Americans have a hissy fit if a Chinese incursion materializes," Claudia Cattaneo, a Calgary-based energy columnist for The National Post, recently wrote. "So far, the Americans have taken Canada's energy for granted."
The wonders of a weak dollar and trade deficits when it comes to trade!
There since there is little or no manufacturing left in America means a decline in demand for oil and gas. Sure Americans need gas and oil for their homes and cars but they can't handle the higher priced stuff for domestic consumption.
China on the other hands has the manufacturing based market for more oil, even higher priced oil like oil from sand-tar because that higher priced cost becomes affordable via economy of scale mass production of end pruducts.
Just one more reason to drill ANWAR and the Gulf Coast off Florida.
America can't afford the sandy tar oil - costs too much to tank up just to heat homes and drive -but its affordable if used for a manufacturing base. That is the point.
--and to get on with nuclear and domestic coal for electricity generation---
So people who have been worried that driving their SUV's was driving up the cost of gasoline can relax. The couple of mpg difference is nothing compared to a billion new consumers on the market.
But the writer knows little about oil and understands it less. At one time most of the world's oil company's were national, and Americans were the few to venture out into foreign fields. This is the source of much of the paranoia about oil companies on the part of people who couldn't understand the idea of basic resources being owned by private companies. That has changed, however, and Americans compete against French, Spanish, Italian, Canadian and nowadays Chinese companies. Actually there are a whole host of players from countries that you wouldn't even think of.
So we aren't going to be disturbed about competing (and partnering) with Chinese companies.
The deals may create unease for the first time since the 1970's in the traditionally smooth energy relationship between the United States and Canada.
Thats silly. Its a market.
China, which has surpassed Japan as the second-largest market for oil, flexes its muscle in attempts to secure oil,
I don't think Chinese Marines are going to be storming ashore. They are going to use dollars, which is fine.
"Watch the Americans have a hissy fit if a Chinese incursion materializes," Claudia Cattaneo
Uh, no. Its a market.
PS: This also points to a decline in American power were American military force can not be applied.
The West has had two times in history when we could have played from strength and ensured that places like China or any other usurpers would have been hobbled for thousands of years. The first period was from 1400 - 1750. The second was just after WW2. This latter was to me the most interesting. For example, imagine that, instead of our obsession with diplomacy and our fostering of the UN at the time, we had adopted, as our objectives, the complete destruction of insurgent Maoist Communism in Asia, and, the aggressive roll back of Soviet Communism in all quarters. We in the US alone had nuclear weapons. We in the US alone had a massive, carrier based global navy. We in the US alone had war experience but not a war ravaged home land. But we squandered our best opportunity to preempt the Geopolitical goals of orientalists. Now, as a result, we face Islamism and resurgent Communism wearing a Fascist cloak. This is going to be tough one to win, if we do so at all. I guess the real question is, will we even get serious about winning, as we have yet to do so.
There has been talk/speculation that a parallel rail system and a southern pipline will be constructed in BC connecting Alaska straight through BC to the USA. There is also a very large gas and oil field off the coast of BC but the government has been relectant to persue extraction. It would be a boom in BC's economy if they went ahead and started oil extraction off the coast.
Invade Alberta!!!!!!!!! Problem solved.
the US does not buy oil - individuals do.
What most people don't understand about China is that she is not historically speaking a land conquering empire. Outside of what China considers China's natural frontiers the historical model the Chinese follow is the tribute system. What many Americans don't get is that China is not seeking power to gain real estate but rather the power to influence and control other nations and bend them to her will.
"the US does not buy oil - individuals do."
- And the US strategic reserves are bought by......???
To ship it to China to pay for our trade deficit?
Here's a computer slide show type presentation that shows a lot of Chinese characters and how Biblical history is embedded in them. It makes a great CHRISTmas card. LUB,
US strategic reserves should never be sold to the public to lower prices.
Now if the Strategic reserves are to be used they would have to be SOLD to the American public.
See? We PURCHASE the oil and then we SELL it. Go read a comic book or something.
" Now if the Strategic reserves are used they would have to be SOLD to the American public."
- Wrong again, banana breath. If the strategic reserves are used, they are set aside for a national emergency, such as a war. In that case, they would NOT be SOLD to the American public, they would be used by the military.
The only time that the strategic reserves were "sold" to the public that I can recall was when Slick Willie misused his authority by releasing hundreds of thousands of barrels from the strategic reserves to the public when the cost of gas spiked and he thought the release would get him some popular brownie points. I remember at the time that his actions took about .02 cents off the price of a gallon of gas for a few weeks.
As with all of Clinton's action's, the effects were negligible and short term.
Again your point is stupid. What good will a few weeks of oil do to the American economy? Once again teh USA does not buy much oil on a federal govt level - sales are to individuals. Chinese buy more for institutions since few Chinese have cars and oil heated homes - though that changes upwards everyday.
Actually Bush authorized the sale of some small amount of oil at the end of the hurricane season, to compensate for deliveries hung up by the series of storms that had oil tankers stacked up out to sea.
I don't know if it really made much difference, though.