The United States has been the sole customer for Canada’s oil industry, but with energy independence on the horizon south of the border, Canadians are looking for other markets.

“The debate in Canada is no longer about just ensuring that we have access to and are providing product as required into the United States,” said Brian Tobin, vice chair of BMO Capital Markets. Tobin is a former member of Canada’s Parliament, Cabinet Minister in Jean Chretien’s government and Premier of Newfoundland from 1996 to 2000.

He spoke as part of a panel in Washington, DC, last week at the 3rd Annual Energy Outlook sponsored by Navigant and Dentons, an international law firm.

“Now in Canada, we’re looking at pipelines that go from Alberta to the West Coast for export; we’re looking at Alberta product going now to the east coast for consumption and potentially for export; we have a sitting Premier who just announced that in terms of LNG [liquefied natural gas], he fully supports it for export. Canada has woken up to the reality that the United States is becoming energy self-sufficient, that the United States is becoming an exporter, perhaps, of energy…and in that environment, I suggest to you, you’re going to see a very different public policy position in Canada vis-a-vis the United States, and vis-a-vis what we know will continue to be our largest market.”

At both the federal and provincial level, Canadians are turning their eyes towards Asia in their efforts to open a second energy market.

“British Columbia has a very aggressive LNG policy,” said Todd Williams, managing director for Navigant Consulting Inc., who spoke on the same panel. “To my knowledge, it’s the most explicit government energy policy focused on exports from North America…”

And Canadians expect to find plenty of demand beyond North America for their gas and oil.

“We really believe that the economic opportunity for North America for the next decade will be dramatic, because of the availability and the cost of energy, all forms of it,” said David Manning, Alberta’s envoy to the United States. “And I think we’re probably the envy right now of Europe, which is committed to some very costly contracts, particularly in natural gas, where they’re paying $15, versus $4 here.”

“We are a very trade dependent nation, probably the most trade dependent of the G-8 nations,” said Janet Holder, executive vice president, Enbridge Western Access. Last year Canada exported about $73 billion worth of oil, making it the nation’s single largest export, and it all went to a single customer: the United States, Holder said.

“Recognizing that you’re a very great partner, and we really hold the relationship with us very near and dear to our hearts, but that ‘sole customer’ means we actually sell our crude oil at a discount relative to global prices. So, any economics 101 says ‘find another customer,’ and that other customer that we’re seeking is the Pacific Rim.”

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