Consider the tale of Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., two of the largest oil sands producers in Alberta. Outwardly, they may appear quite similar. Each produces hundreds of thousands of barrels a day from the oil sands. And most of that oil eventually ends up in the same place–gas tanks across the continent. The path it takes to get there, however, is another story. The difference is a microcosm of the predicament Canada’s energy industry currently faces.
Over the last few years, Suncor’s emphasis has shifted from exponential production growth to milking the full value of what it digs out of the ground. Fortunately for Suncor, it processes nearly all of the bitumen it pulls from the oil sands in its own refineries.
On the other hand, CNRL, like most oil sands producers, exports raw bitumen to the United States. In so doing, however, the company also transfers an enormous amount of wealth from its Canadian operations to American refiners in the Midwest.