It's one thing for China to buy Canadian oil companies. It's another thing altogether to move the oil to Asia.
The bid by China's CNOOC to buy Nexen Inc. throws more focus on Canada's simmering pipeline debate, since it takes pipes to move the oil to ports for shipment to foreign markets.
While most of Nexen's production is overseas, it has an important oilsands facility at Long Lake.
And trade experts predict that China will be shopping for more Canadian oil companies - and their production - in the future.
That means moving more oil to overseas markets. Canadian pipelines currently carry about 3.2 million barrels a day of oil and other liquids, but many lines service only North American markets.
Canada's oil production is projected to double by 2030.
Additional purchases by Chinese companies will increase demand for pipelines running to coastal terminals - and proposals are in the works to serve ports on three coasts.
Looking westward, Enbridge Inc. is proposing building its 525,000-barrel-a-day Gateway pipeline through British Columbia to Kitimat to move oilsands bitumen to Pacific markets. The price tag of $5.5 billion is growing as the company seeks to soothe concerns about pipeline spills in B.C.
Also westward, Kinder Morgan is proposing to double its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the west coast, in a $4.1-billion project. That would boost capacity to 750,000 barrels a day from today's 300,000 barrels.
Looking southward, TransCanada Corp. wants to push its Keystone XL pipeline south to the Gulf of Mexico. If approved, the $5.3-billion line would carry 830,000 barrels a day.
Pipeline plans are also brewing in Ontario. Enbridge is seeking to reverse the flow of its Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia to Montreal so it can ship up to 200,000 barrels a day of western oil, including synthetic crude from the oilsands, eastward.
Opponents of the line say that the company ultimately hopes to pipe oil onward from Montreal to Atlantic seaports in the U.S.
The National Energy Board held hearings on part of the Line 9 reversal in May; a decision is expected in August.
Inside the oil business, the pipeline push comes from the price gap between North American and world oil prices.
With most production bottled up in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the U.S. market is the only one available to many Canadian oil producers.
And U.S. prices are consistently lower than world oil prices, as Enbridge's incoming chief executive Al Monaco noted in a recent speech.
"If you do the math behind that, it translates into a loss of about $60 million a day - a massive loss for Canadians," Monaco said.
"Today, as Canadians, we are leaving billions of dollars on the table because we're not realizing full value for our resources."
Those outside the industry are looking more critically at safety, and questioning who gets a share in the new wealth if it's realized.
Wednesday marks two years since an Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Kalamazoo, Mich., sending oil into the Kalamazoo River.
B.C., for example, is demanding a bigger share of the Gateway pipeline's revenue in return for the risk of having the line run through the middle of the province.
Native groups whose territory the pipeline will cross, and environmentalists worried about increased tanker traffic on the west coast, are also questioning the project.
Meanwhile, TransCanada has been forced to redraw its proposed route for the Keystone pipeline to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills in Nebraska, but doesn't yet have approval.
In Ontario, environmentalists and landowners have questioned the safety of the proposed pipeline reversal. Enbridge lawyer Douglas Crowther insisted at the energy board hearing that "Enbridge simply will not transport oil that cannot be transported safely."
Nexen's shares closed Tuesday on the TSX at $26.42, up 7 cents from Monday's close. Prior to CNOOC's bid, the shares had traded at $17.29.
Copyright 2012 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited