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Majority of oil sands ownership and profits are foreign, says analysis

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — More than two-thirds of all oil sands production in Canada is owned by foreign entities, sending a majority of the industry’s profits out of the country, says a new analysis released Thursday by a British Columbia-based conservation group.

The research by Forest EthicsAdvocacy was based on an analysis of shareholder information in January 2012 from Bloomberg Professional of more than a dozen companies, including nine with headquarters in Canada, and six with their head offices in other countries. It found 71% of the ownership of oilsands production was foreign, while the foreign-based companies controlled 24.2% of the sector’s production.

“Some notably Canadian oil companies, such as Suncor, Canadian Oil Sands and Husky, are predominantly owned by non-Canadians,” said the report. “The data also shows us that more than half of Canada’s oil and gas revenue goes to foreign entities.”

The analysis, which also used production data in January from OilsandsReview, a publication that focuses on unconventional oil issues, found $11.7-billion of investments in oilsands production between 2007 and 2011 were coming from China, making up about 16% of the total investments of $73.6-billion in that time period.

Alberta’s oil sands sector has become a target of many well-organized environmental campaigns because it requires huge amounts of land, water and energy to extract heavy oil from the natural bitumen deposits in the ground that are considered to make up one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government responded by launching an international lobbying and marketing campaign, in partnership with industry and the Alberta government, to promote the oil sands industry abroad and counter foreign environmental policies that target the sector’s footprint on the atmosphere.

Internal federal documents have concluded oil sands production is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

Scientists and governments from around the world say all sources of the heat-trapping emissions must be dramatically reduced to avoid potentially irreversible changes to the planet’s ecosystems, atmosphere and the global economy from climate change.

Meantime, the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a government-funded think-tank, has estimated that the oilsands sector is responsible for more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in Canada, and will contribute more than $1.7-trillion to the country’s economy over the next 25 years. But the institute’s research has been challenged by some economists, including former Insurance Corporation of British Columbia president Robyn Allan, who have argued this analysis doesn’t adequately consider the impact of fluctuations of the Canadian dollar or oil prices, among other factors.

Forest Ethics Advocacy said that its own analysis on ownership demonstrates that recent efforts by Harper’s government to weaken Canada’s environmental protection laws and speed up approval of industrial projects are not in the national interest.

“Since the beginning of the year, our federal government has either cut or gutted every piece of environmental legislation designed to protect our land, air, and water while aggressively pushing for the expansion of the tar sands and the building of new pipelines, such as the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and supertanker project,” concluded the report. “Harper has claimed to do this in the name of Canada’s national interest while attacking anyone who disagrees.”

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