China set to grab Canada oilsands if US declines

August 11, 2011


A rancorous debate over TransCanada Corp.’s (T.TRP) proposed Keystone XL Pipeline has given rise to two uncomfortable prospects: If the US$7 billion project is not built, Alberta’s oil sands will become landlocked, at least for a while, and the United States will lose access to one of its few reliable, friendly sources of oil.

Keystone XL is a proposed pipeline that would run from Edmonton—the hub of Canada’s massive oil sands—through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, to Houston. The line is critical to ensure a continued, smooth ramp-up in oil sands production, because producers need to send the heavy bitumen extracted from the sands to refineries able to handle that kind of crude. Since refineries in the Midwest are reaching their heavy-oil capacity, it needs to go to the Gulf Coast.

. . .

The decision lies with the State Department, because the pipeline crosses international borders. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her decision before the end of the year. The department already issued a preliminary environmental impact assessment, which seems generally supportive of the project. For example, the State Department concluded that if Keystone XL is not built, oil sands production will be diverted to other markets (such as China), and the refineries in Texas will continue to process bitumen apace from offshore platforms. As such, the pipeline would not increase production of greenhouse gases.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not agree. In a letter to the State Department this week, the EPA argued that the project poses serious environmental risks and that the State Department’s environmental review process was seriously flawed.

. . .

Environmentalists are openly using the project as a proxy for their general opposition to oil sands development. Since environmentalists have framed the debate in that sense, Clinton’s decision will have ramifications far beyond the pipeline: It will set the tone for the U.S.’s perspective on the oil sands. But even though environmentalists would celebrate a Keystone denial, their method may be moot, because denying TransCanada approval for Keystone XL would only hinder oil sands development for a few years.

The thing is, if there is no Keystone XL, Canada will find other ways to export oil from its vast oil sands. And if the United States doesn’t want the oil, other markets will.

. . . The oil sands hold 171.3 billion barrels of oil in reserve. For context, Saudi Arabia’s reserves stand at 264.2 billion barrels. The enormity of the oil sands resource has raised the stakes for both sides in the pipeline debate and placed undue importance on the outcome.

Read the whole thing.



  1. This just shows that the promises to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas will be extremely difficult to keep because they go against the economic interests of particular business organizations. I am afraid that our own perception of Canada as an environmentally conscious country will gradually be damaged as soon as the final numbers confirm our government’s inability to reach its goals in this particular area.

  2. […] sands are another massive unconventional petroleum resource that is already under development.  As noted here last week, if the US will not approve the Keystone pipeline, then that oil will head elsewhere.  A rival […]

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