Are you a politically stable country with untapped oil reserves that won't soon be trapped behind a daunting web of post-spill moratoriums and regulations? If so, the world's energy companies would like to have a word with you. Expect newfound interest in Australia's offshore oil reserves, for instance.
But the big winner here is Canada, whose oil reserves, mainly in the form of Alberta's gargantuan oil sand deposits, are the second largest in the world behind Saudi Arabia's. Extracting crude from oil sands -- a process that combines the kid-glove delicacy of oil drilling with the subtle artistry of strip-mining -- is the most pollution-intensive and expensive way to get oil out of the ground, a grueling endeavor that levels forests and leaves toxic runoff in its wake. But Canada's oil sands are anticipated to become the largest source of U.S. oil imports this year anyway -- and since the BP spill, Canadian boosters have been busy talking up Alberta oil as a safer, cleaner alternative to offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. On a diplomatic visit to Washington in May, Jim Prentice, the Canadian environmental minister, claimed that the hazards of oil-sands production were "probably less than the kind of risks associated with offshore drilling."
Plenty of people have thrown cold water on this notion -- environmentally minded investment groups and oilfield service company executives have both pointed out that oil sands will hardly be immune to the newly skittish regulatory and investment climate surrounding post-BP oil drilling, and Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has made political hay of opposing the expansion of Canada's oil-shipment infrastructure since the BP spill.
But it's more likely that oil-sands operators will benefit from the newfound apocalypticism in the world's view of petroleum: the understanding that for even the safest-seeming sources of oil, all bets are off. "After enduring years of criticism for safety and environmental risks, the oil sands players are deriving quiet solace from the [BP] spill, as observers realize the challenges inherent in developing new oil sources whether on or offshore," Citigroup Capital Markets analyst Robert Morris told Canada's Financial Post this week.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images