As most of the Western world plans sanctions against Russia, Europe has a big problem. For example, it gets about 30% of its natural gas from the energy rich country. But where would Russian oil and gas go if not to the Western world? How about East to China. And if more fuel is going to China, Canada might find its oil sands look increasingly vital.
A bad partner or a good one?
Russia has always been a black box filled with more questions than answers. Large energy reserves, however, have forced the world into a tense partnership. Events like Russia taking over Crimea from Ukraine, though, pop up just enough to make working with the country a big risk.
Ask BP (NYSE:BP) just how unfortunate it is to be tied to Russia. The international oil giant owns nearly 20% of Russia's Rosneft. That company is basically an arm of the Russian government, which owns 70%. With the increasing global tensions, Rosneft shares have fallen and have taken BP along for the ride.
If you own shares of BP, you should be watching this global drama closely. However, Russia's energy wealth isn't about to be left in dry dock. In fact, China might find itself awash in energy if the West doesn't want, or isn't allowed, Russia's riches. China is already importing record amounts of crude from Russia, and the Crimean situation could easily lead to more natural gas pipelines between the two. No wonder China abstained from voting on sanctions and doesn't appear to be picking sides.
If more natural gas and oil get pushed to China, that will put the world's largest importer of oil in a stronger negotiating position—advantage China. However, if less oil is moving from Russia to the rest of the world, Canada's politically safe oil would start to look better to everyone else, too.
Most of that oil is trapped in the Canadian Oil Sands, a thick soup of sand and oil that is expensive to mine and relatively dirty to produce. But if the world needs oil that won't matter. This makes the move by Teck Resources (NYSE:TECK) to invest in an oil sands mine look even better.
That project, in which Teck has a 20% stake, won't come on line for several years, but when it does it will represent a whole new revenue stream for the miner. One of its partners in the deal, with a 40% share, is Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU). Suncor is already a big player in the oil sands if you don't want to wait for the Russian issue to play out or Teck's oil revenues to start flowing around 2017.
Suncor was the first company to develop the oil sands and remains one of the biggest players in the region. Moreover, it's performing at the top of its game. Its oil sands production increased 11% last year, hitting a record level in the fourth quarter.
The third partner in the project, France's Total (NYSE:TOT), also looks like it made a good move. It's 40% stake could assure it access to oil at the very moment when Europe is looking for alternatives. Of course this is just one of many projects for Total, which unfortunately also happens to own a 17% stake in Russia's largest natural gas producer, so the big beneficiary of the Oil Sands project will still be Teck, which is just getting into the oil space.
There are so many moving parts right now that the Russia/Crimea issue is like a TV show you can't stop watching. Investors, however, don't like exciting, which BP shareholders have learned. But stepping back from this event to look at the world with new eyes could lead you to some interesting investment ideas, like Teck and Suncor in the Canadian Oil Sands.