After a couple of decades of globalization, the oilsands are back to being owned and run by a tight oligopoly of Canadian companies.
The rush of foreign players brought capital, research and development, employment and an international flavour to the industry. But it also pushed up costs because of an escalation of competition, moved control and profits abroad, slowed down decision making and attracted a lot of bad publicity to the deposits by making them the poster child for the international anti-fossil fuel movement.
You won’t find too many complaints in Calgary about the international retreat, which hit a high point last week with Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s oilsands’ selloff. The last time so many oil multinationals backed out of Canada in the 1980s the Canadian oil and gas industry flourished and spawned scores of startups.
One of them was Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which from a penny stock grew aggressively and gobbled up Shell’s oilsands operations at a bargain and will likely do a lot more with them than Shell ever could. CNQ used the same playbook when it moved into the oilsands in the late 1990s by acquiring BP Amoco’s historic Canadian oil business at a bargain price.
The “delicious irony” is that the Canadianization of the oilsands is happening without “the clever hand of Ottawa’s policy makers,” said Robert Skinner, executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
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