Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tar Sands

I'm a little behind on my New Yorkers but came across a cool article on oil production in Canada. The article by Elizabeth Kolbert, who has been on a serious environmental writing roll by the way, details an oil extraction process that takes a tar like substance found in Canada and magically turns it into oil. The drawbacks are environmental damage and it takes a lot of energy to go through the process. Kolbert estimates it takes about a barrel of oil energy to produce 3 barrels of oil. Not an amazing yield, but with oil at $100 a barrel, it makes economic sense.

I first became aware of this type of oil production technique when a company I invested in, Newmont Mining (a gold miner), bought a huge track of land in tar sands country. The purchase was about 4 years ago, before Oil prices went crazy. Management of Newmont saw their energy costs going crazy and decided it would be a great hedge. Turned out they were right and turned something like a $100M investment into a $1B return and effectively immunized the company from rising energy costs for about 50 years. Not too shabby. That's what good management does.