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China invests in 5 billion barrel tar sands projects

The Globe and Mail reports today that, “Calgary-based Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. (has) sold a 60-per-cent interest in two of its undeveloped projects near Fort McMurray to the international unit of PetroChina Co. Ltd. (for $1.9 billion).”

“The transaction will hand approximately three billion barrels of Alberta oil to PetroChina, whose parent is the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., but will leave operation of those projects, named MacKay River and Dover, in Canadian hands.”

“(These projects, which contain an estimated five billion barrels) …could one day produce between 400,000 and 500,0000 barrels of crude a day.”

“Athabasca plans to extract those barrels with technology known as steam-assisted gravity drainage. (This uses) underground injections of high-pressure steam to coax the thick bitumen to the surface.”

(According to Greenpeace, “Using this method of extraction uses two and half to four barrels of water per barrel of oil, and 1000 cubic feet of natural gas.” As such, the projects would mean the use of up to 20 billion barrels of water in total, or approximately 2 million barrels of water per day when fully operating.)

Columnist Don Martin writes in the National Post today that, “Sources in Washington predict politicians there will not be pleased at having a massive supply of secure energy on their northern doorstep slipping under Chinese ownership. Well, too bad. …Canadian oil sands exports are increasingly encountering U.S. political resistance at federal, state and municipal levels as low-carbon fuel standards move through the legislative process to erect barricades against an energy with an extraction problem.”

“(Canada) can be forever held captive to the whims of U.S. refineries, which import 60% of oilsand production or about 780,000 barrels a day. Or it can create a battle of demand between the two energy-consuming superpowers that will soon find there is not enough oil to satisfy their combined thirsts.”

“That will require Canada, whose pipelines now head only north and south, to punch a hole in the Rockies and open up a crude flow to the west coast, from where oil could head overseas.”

“…The cost and complications of a new west-bound pipeline may be prohibitive for the private sector to go it alone. The proposed Enbridge Inc. Northern Gateway pipeline, which was been on ice for several years, is being thawed for reconsideration. That’s at least five years off and the project faces numerous environmental, aboriginal land claim and geographical hurdles, which is probably why they weren’t talking it yesterday — although they weren’t ruling it out in the longer term either.”

The Globe and Mail report notes, “(Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.) expects the PetroChina deal to close Oct. 31, and said it expects government approvals to pose little obstacle. …Athabasca has applied for permission to build two pilot projects, but does not expect to begin commercial production until at least 2014…”

The Globe and Mail report is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/chinas-bold-move-into-the-oil-sands/article1271435/?.

Don Martin’s column is at

To read about the Council of Canadians campaign against the tar sands, please go to http://canadians.org/energy/issues/tarsands/index.html.