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Tickers in this Article: PTR, TOT, PCZ, UTS.TO, CEO, PCA.TO
Crude oil has had a rocky year, with prices reaching all-time highs in July followed by prices falling to the lowest levels in nearly four years as crude inventories fell in reaction to the global financial crisis. In spite of this, in 2009, crude prices have found some support between the $42 and $55 mark. With prices finally stabilizing, many traders and investors are wondering if now is the time to venture back into crude-related areas.

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Buying Crude Without Buying the Commodity
Even though prices have remained weak along with rising inventories, China has continued to aggressively purchase stakes in additional fields in places such as Brazil, Venezuela, Russia and Kazakhstan. Since February, China has announced more than $50 billion in energy deals alone. This means that China is investing in its future by taking advantage of the recent weakness. For many investors, buying crude oil futures involves too much volatility; another way that they can make money in this area is to buy different stocks that will benefit from increases in the price of crude. (Find out how to stay on top of data reports that could cause volatility in these markets, read Become An Oil And Gas Futures Detective.)

Promising Crude Stocks
PetroChina Company (NYSE:PTR) has been building for the future despite the tough challenges that the company faces. During the latest earnings report, Zhou Jiping, Vice Chairman and President, said that despite both environmental and economic difficulties "the Company responded actively and effectively, continued to implement its strategies in three key areas, namely 'resources', 'market' and 'internationalization', and made every effort to improve operations. The realized profit of the Company was negatively affected to a certain extent as a result of the global financial crisis and state policy factors such as taxation and pricing. However, the overall development of the Company maintains a steady, orderly and healthy growth momentum." This quote illustrates that even with oil prices down the company is consistently adding new reserves and inventory to feed China's growing future demand.

Total (NYSE:TOT) recently announced that it and China National Petroleum Corp. are in talks with Venezuela to produce its oil for eventual use in China. Once the deal is complete, it is estimated that Total could be sending China 200 thousand barrels of Venezuelan oil a day, with the possibility of increasing this amount in the future. Under the proposed arrangement, Total would build a processing plant in Venezuela to process the heavy crude to be shipped to China. This gives more evidence of China using the recent weakness in crude prices to build for its future oil needs.

Expanding Companies
UTS Energy Corporation (TSX:UTS) has recently seen a hostile takeover bid from Total. On April 13, Total increased its unsolicited bid from $612 million to $830 million. UTS Energy currently has a 20% stake in the Fort Hills project, with Petro Canada (NYSE:PCZ, TSX:PCA) holding 60% and Teck Cominco with the last 20%. This news only underscores the fact that Total is planning on investing between $15 billion to $20 billion in different Canadian oil sands projects. Total is planning on using the region to produce 200 thousand barrels a day, and is expecting to produce 250 thousand barrels per day by 2020.

CNOOC (NYSE:CEO) recently announced that while the company will not be making purchases for foreign oil companies, it is willing to engage in joint partnerships with other foreign oil firms. This means that the company is indirectly increasing the amount of reserves to which it will have access.

Bottom Line
Even as oil prices remain well below the all-time highs of last summer, many different companies are taking advantage of this weakness in an attempt to lock down future supplies. Recent evidence of this includes comments made by Petro China and Total, and China's productive talks with Venezuela. In addition, Total's unsolicited bid to buy a stake in the Fort Hills project and CNOOC's willingness to establish partnerships with various overseas players shows that many large oil producers are taking steps to benefit from oil's coming resurgence. (Learn more in The Industry Handbook: The Oil Services Industry.)

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