The purchase of Calgary-based energy company Nexen Inc. (NYSE: NXY) for $15.1 billion by China's CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE ADR: CEO) is the largest overseas purchase ever by the world's second-biggest economic power.
But it will likely be the last time China, or any other country, takes a big chunk out of Canada's oil sands - the world's third-largest proven reserves of crude oil.
That's because after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved the Nexen deal in December, he banned further foreign firms' investment in Canada's oil sands and will allow them only under "exceptional" circumstances.
"The government's concern and discomfort for some time has been that very quickly, a series of large-scale controlling transactions by foreign state-owned companies could rapidly transform this [oil sands] industry from one that is essentially a free market to one that is effectively under control of a foreign government," Harper said in December.
"Foreign state control of oil sands development has reached the point at which further such foreign state control would not be of net benefit to Canada," he added.
But foreign government control isn't the real problem facing Canadian oil sands companies.
Lure of Profits Spurs Oil Sands Pipeline Projects
There's a pipeline race happening in the oil industry, and the winner will unlock huge profits.
You see, the Canadian oil sands are missing an efficient way to get the oil from the fields to the refineries and to the customers. That means profits are trapped in areas like the Athabasca oil sands of northeasternAlberta, Canada -- the second-largest crude reserves in the world with about 1.7 trillion barrels of oil.
That's why TransCanada Corp.'s (NYSE:TRP) Keystone XL pipeline, recently delayed for a year for further review by the U.S. State Department, has been such a big deal. The Keystone pipeline would bring the Canadian crude from Alberta to U.S. refineries, reducing the need for imports from distant and often unstable Middle Eastern countries.
But because the Keystone pipeline crosses an international border, the State Department must approve it,but the 1,700 mile route has raised environmental concerns.
Now several other companies have redoubled their efforts on similar oil pipeline projects, not only to move oil from Canada but also to relieve an oil bottleneck in Cushing, OK, that is helping depress prices of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude.
"The markets need a solution really badly to the Cushing problem," Lanny Pendill, senior energy and utilities analyst at Edward Jones told MarketWatch. "If Keystone gets deferred too long, it's highly likely that competing proposals will gain traction at TransCanada's expense."
Other companies did indeed react swiftly to TransCanada's setback.
Almost immediately after the announcement that Keystone pipeline would be delayed, Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. (NYSE: ENB) said it had bought a 50% stake in the Seaway Crude Pipeline, which now carries oil from Freeport, TX, to Cushing. Enbridge plans to reverse the flow of oil next year. (Enterprise Products Partners LP (NYSE: EPD) owns the other 50%.)
"The producers think this is great, because now you have enhanced connectivity and enhanced transportation into the largest area and concentration of refiners in the U.S," Darren Horowitz, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates (NYSE: RJF), told Bloomberg.
Price PressuresThe bottleneck at Cushing has been a major factor in opening a spread between the market price of WTI and Brent crude.
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Occidental Petroleum Leads Onshore Oil Hunt as Offshore Drilling Faces Tighter Regulation
Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) announced yesterday (Wednesday) it was doubling the capacity estimate for a California oil field discovery as U.S. offshore drilling restrictions fuel onshore interest.
The Los Angeles-based oil explorer has focused on onshore oil production for years and estimates its current discovery near Bakersfield, California holds up to 500 million barrels of oil, valuing it at more than $34 billion at current prices.
"There is a lot of new interest in onshore-production potential in the U.S. and Occidental is at the forefront of that," Brian Youngberg, an analyst with Edward Jones & Co., told Bloomberg.
Occidental, the fourth largest U.S. oil and gas producer, made the announcement at a meeting with investors and analysts Wednesday in New York. Chief Executive Officer Ray R. Irani detailed the company's long-term strategy for profitability.
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