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Alberta is one of the few places where oil companies can invest, as the majority of the world's oil reserves are controlled by national governments. Only 22 percent of the total world reserves are accessible to private sector investment, 52 percent of which is in Alberta's oil sands, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Canada's only major oil export market is the U.S. But with the product of oil sands and pipeline delivery to the U.S. under perennial clouds of environmental objections, and with Asian demand growing, this country wants to diversify its market, and China is eager to oblige.
Sinopec, a Chinese state-controlled oil company, has a stake in a $5.5 billion plan drawn up by the Alberta-based Enbridge company to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast province of British Columbia. Alberta Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove met this month with Sinopec and CNOOC, China's other big oil company, and China's largest banks.
"There are people who still feel that one barrel of oil going from Canada to China could be one more barrel going to the United States. But those are people in the minority. It is a concern but it is not a big concern," said Wenran Jiang, a professor at the University of Alberta and a senior fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation.
However, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, freshly and convincingly re-elected, is an oil man who has suggested he supports building the pipeline. Also, Calgary-based Kinder Morgan has plans to expand an existing pipeline route to Vancouver so that oil can be shipped to Asia.