For Canadian energy, good news seems balanced out by bad. On the one hand, rising crude prices have improved the economics for producing synthetic crude oil from Alberta's oil sands. But on the other, few members of Big Oil appear able to participate in the area without encountering rancor from environmentally-concerned shareholders.
BP (NYSE: BP ) approached its annual meeting last week having apparently outdone critics on a pair of key issues, including the Sunrise oil sands project, which it is expected to share with Canada's Husky Energy. BP's participation in the project had been challenged by the FairPensions group, along with other investors concerned about the environmental risks from Sunrise.
And while the partners haven't decided whether to move forward with Sunrise -- which, along with numerous other projects, was delayed by plummeting oil prices last year -- the project could produce an impressive 200,000 barrels per day by 2020. Beyond Sunrise, BP is involved in two other oil sands projects. Its Kirby oil sands play also includes Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN ) . And the Terre de Grace oil sands block is being shared by Value Creation, Inc. None of the projects has yet to begin production.
The other issue on which BP defeated dissidents involved executive compensation. It's likely that activists were prodded there by CEO Tony Hayward's 41% pay increase last year in the face of lower earnings. Nevertheless, both of the issues went the company's way, by roughly an 85% margin in each vote.
But don't get the idea that BP is alone regarding tar sands environmental issues. Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) , for instance, has also been asked to curtail its oil sands activities. And France's Total (NYSE: TOT ) has been the object of a campaign across France by Greenpeace, protesting the company's Canadian efforts. Similarly, Suncor Energy (NYSE: SU ) faced Greenpeace protests last fall at an open-pit operation in northern Alberta.
Nor is this a purely a foreign phenomenon. Both ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) have been asked to churn out reports dealing with the environmental and other aspects of their tar-sands activities. The reports will be available at the companies' upcoming annual meetings.
But back to BP. For my money, the company is the most rapidly improving member of Big Oil, and will make a success of Canada as it has so many other producing venues. On that basis, I'd suggest that Foolish energy investors consider salting away a few of its shares.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool's disclosure policy operates in the most difficult of conditions.