Wednesday, 13 February 2013

US and Canada do some more dancing on energy

From the FT: US approves $18bn Cnooc bid for Nexen. That headline struck me as odd--why would one non-US company acquiring another non-US company require US approval? But this is the oil & gas industry, and that impacts US security, so bring on a committee review:
Tuesday’s approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, a multi-agency body that reviews large deals that could affect US security, gives Nexen “all of the requisite approvals to proceed to close”...

Late last year it looked as if Cfius might challenge the deal. In November, Cnooc and Nexen resubmitted their agreement for approval, raising concerns that Cfius was taking a hard line.
Though less than a tenth of Nexen’s assets are in the US, those that are include a series of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of those are near US military assets, leading some to believe that Cfius might block the deal or require mitigation agreements.
The US (or at least two American brothers) has pretty high financial stakes in the Canadian oil & gas industry, as a recent real news interview of BBC's Greg Palast reveals: if the Koch brothers (yes, those down-home folks with their "plan to reshape America")  can get that pipeline through, they can cut out their Venezuelan competition with a cheap alternative, putting an additional $2B or so in their pockets each year. But this time the US interest is not about its energy security, at least according to Palast. Rather, the plan here is to sell the supply on to the Caribbean. From the transcript:
[The Koch brothers says to themselves] If we can use our political muscle to jam a pipeline through the guts of the United States down to Texas...we can make a killing. 
And by the way, they're making an extra killing. When the Republicans were talking about the XL Keystone pipeline making us energy-independent...We're not energy-independent if it comes from Canada. But if it comes from Canada, let's assume that this is our buddies, because they'll give us the oil cheap, and that's what makes them our buddies. 
It also undermines Hugo Chávez. They have to undermine Chávez, which they want to do for geopolitical reasons. 
But then the oil will not be used in the United States. It will be refined mostly for gasoline that will be sold at a premium in the Caribbean. Remember, these refineries are in the Gulf coast. Selling it, then running that stuff back into New Jersey is not a moneymaker. The way you make the money is you sell gasoline in places that don't have the refining capacity and will pay a premium, like, you know, Jamaica, Santa Domingo. That's where your money's going to be made. So this is oil from Canada which will then go into the Koch refineries and sold into the Caribbean.
I admit I am puzzled. How is it in the interest of either Canada or the US to build a mechanism for the Koch brothers to insert themselves as intermediaries in an energy supply chain to the Caribbean? From Canada's perspective, why not cut out the middleman, or to out it another way, why be such good buddies?  Is this a question of risk, cost, technological capacity, logistics, something else? And for the US, if the environmental hazards to communities across the nation are as Palast describes, why subsidize that risk for the greater personal profit of billionaires when the political costs of support for the pipeline seem so high? 

I also don't know the financing of the pipeline, haven't studied it. I am scared to go and look, if I am going to find out that the entire infrastructure is to be underwritten by government.

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