If you were looking for two guys not likely to be fazed by the financial scale of Alberta’s oil sands would you need to look beyond Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?
But what do you conclude when two of the world’s richest people make a sneaky, flying visit to northern Alberta?
As guests of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the multi-zillionaires were whisked in August 18 to have a peak at Canadian Natural Resources’ massive Horizon project.
CAPP vice-president Greg Stringham told reporters that Gates and Buffett asked his industry lobby group for a general overview of the oil sands and where the resource fits into Canada’s position in the energy world.
“They were exercising curiosity, basically saying ‘Wow, this is neat,’” Stringham said.
Canadian Natural refused to comment beyond confirming the two men were accompanied by chairman Allan Markin and vice-chairman Murray Edwards.
One source told the Calgary Herald the two men had “investment in mind.”
Buffett is already a stakeholder in ConocoPhillips, which controls its own oil sands projects and is a partner with EnCana in a production/refining joint venture.
But given that Buffett and Gates have been liberally pouring some of their wealth into charitable causes, there is an undercurrent of disquiet that they might be more concerned about growing U.S. reliance on so-called “dirty fuel” from the oil sands.
The visit comes at a time when the oil sands are increasingly under fire on a global scale, especially from environmentalists and governments unhappy with Canada’s stance on greenhouse gas emissions.
It coincided with a speech by Canada’s Industry Minister Jim Prentice in Atlanta, Ga., when he surprised some in the industry by announcing his government will soon introduce legislation pushing for more dramatic cuts in emissions than the 45 percent per barrel cut in carbon dioxide achieved since 1990.