Today brings another fascinating development in the saga of the Alberta tar sands, which is becoming one of our favorite topics here at InvestigateWest and shows signs of becoming a major geopolitical dispute as well as a massive fueler of global warming.
The big news today is that a Chinese state-owned company, PetroChina, has purchased a 60 percent stake in the Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.’s MacKay River and Dover projects for nearly $2 billion.
This is likely to boost the case for building a pipeline across the Rockies to unload oil-sands petroleum on the west coast of British Columbia, a prospect completely unwelcome to native First Nations living in B.C.
For more on the environmental implications of the tar sands, see this recent Dateline Earth post. Or, just suffice it to say the impact is huge.
The Calgary Herald’s editorial writers missed a comma in the following excerpt, but it conveys the apprehensions some are feeling in Canada and the United States about PetroChina’s move:
Canadians should be deeply concerned about the relationship that would evolve, in which a foreign government increasingly makes important decisions about a premier Canadian industry and not necessarily with the free market in mind. For this is the start, not the extent of Chinese oilsands ambitions.
Opponents are hoping the Investment in Canada Act will not augur well for the Chinese, but the Harper admininstration is showing signs of being quite open to the idea.
The Globe and Mail’s Shawn McCarthy captured the feelings of “China hawks” in Washington, D.C., in an interview with Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and a former aide to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
An acquisition like this should raise national security questions both for the government of Canada and for the government of the United States.
Now, to translate: Americans have always seen the tar sands in particular, and Canada in general, as a huge stockpile of minerals and other goods in the care of a kindly old Canadian storekeeper. And that storekeeper, folks on this side of the border have always figured, didn’t really have prospects of many other customers for the oil sands, given the resource-intensive process necessary to mine and refine the stuff.
But now, with China wading in, and the pipeline to the Pacific — that’s that sea that China’s beaches border — about to be built… it looks like the Canadians won’t have any trouble bidding up prices. And since the tar sands represent the largest known petroleum reserve outside Saudi Arabia, that’s got Americans who are bent on fueling the world with petroleum worried.
Others, primarily environmental groups, will also argue against allowing China to slurp from a tar sands pipeline at the edge of the Pacific. What looked like an uphill battle for the greens before today is starting to look more like scaling one of those huge peaks in the Rockies.