Canadian Oil Sands: Courage Or Cunning

by: Global Investing Editor

Wednesday, Oct. 5, was not a big news day, but happily the market shows less red ink than earlier in the week.

It takes a certain kind of mad courage or low cunning to say that markets may rise when everyone says they are doomed to fall. That's my line. I am old enough to remember the first man who ran a 4-minute mile, Roger Bannister, whose son now runs a company on our recommended list. Tuesday we had a 4% mile, or rather, a 4% rise in U.S. shares in the last 45 minutes of trading. I was not responsible. I was having my annual checkup at the doctor.

The main reason I retain my bullish stance is not because I think markets are never going to go down. It is because you cannot forecast when they will switch direction with any accuracy. So what you have to do is buy stocks in good companies whose characteristics meet your investment goals when the price is seriously down.

I am struck by the way governments in Europe and the USA are talking green against dirty, against Canadian oil sands development. The U.S. Department of State is working hard to get permits to allow Athabasca (Alberta, Canada) heavy oils to ship to the U.S. Gulf Coast and heartland, opposed by environmentalists and locals in its path worried about leaks.

Europe meanwhile has imposed a 25% tax bite on oil sands imports because they are “unclean” not in how they burn but in how they are extracted.

A similar fate awaits oil and above all gas extracted from shale by fracturation (fracking), which breaks up the deep underground rock with injections of water and chemicals. This is a NIMBY phenomenon. People living over the shale worry that their water supply will become methanized. There are extreme examples of tap water that can be set alight coming out of a lady's sink in western New York state. But it is probably not from the Marcellus share at all. The water table is close to the surface while the gas is deep down.

France has just banned three companies from using fracking in sites on the French Riviera, which at least is more beautiful than Lackawana, a location which already features the former Bethlehem Steel Acid Tar Pits and Agitator Sludge Area. And as we have noted before, despite being a physicist, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to shut in all nuclear power plants in her country.

I am struck by these moves against alternatives to pumped oil. Maybe it was because I read in the Financial Times yesterday how Daniel Yergin thinks we have moved away from dependence on Arab oil. It seems senseless to allow drilling off the coast of Alaska for conventional petroleum but to ban fracking or oil sands development in areas where there are fewer real risks to the environment.