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Suncor to Sell Some Gas Assets, Consider Shale Partners

September 21, 2009
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Calgary's Suncor Energy Inc. plans to sell some of its natural gas assets, but it's also open to some shale gas joint ventures, an executive said last week.

Since its merger with Petro-Canada Corp. was completed last month, the "new Suncor" has been looking at ways to trim costs and create efficiencies, John Rogers, vice president of investor relations, told participants at the Peters & Co. conference.

Suncor became Canada's largest energy company after completing the merger with Petro-Canada in August (see NGI, Aug. 3; March 30). Downsizing already has begun. Earlier this month the company announced plans to reduce its workforce by 1,000 (see NGI, Sept. 7). Now Suncor wants to sell gas assets that are not top performers -- both legacy assets and newly acquired properties.

"We are going through a significant reduction in terms of the numbers of properties and the amount of production that's coming out of the natural gas division," Rogers said. Suncor has a target price in mind and plans to identify specific assets to sell "when the time is right."

The decision is not based only on the current gas pricing environment, Rogers said.

"We have not been happy with the returns that are coming out of both sides of the natural gas assets, both ourselves and the legacy Petro-Canada," he told the audience.

Suncor has long been considered an oilsands producer, but before the Petro-Canada merger the company had a substantial gas arm, exploring and developing properties across parts of Canada and in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Suncor's gas exploration efforts continue in northern frontier areas, including the Mackenzie Delta and other parts of the Northwest Territories, as well as Canada's Arctic Islands. In addition, Suncor partners with Shell Canada Ltd. and ConocoPhillips Canada on some Alberta and British Columbia gas projects.

Petro-Canada's output was nearly split between gas and oil. In 2006 its North American operations produced 616 MMcf/d of natural gas, and by 2010 the company had planned to have around 50% of its total output coming from unconventional gas resources in North America. In addition, Suncor acquired stakes in the Cacouna Energy Project, a liquefied natural gas regasification plant to be built in Gros-Cacouna, QB, which Petro-Canada and TransCanada Corp. had jointly pursued.

For now, however, "it's all about the oilsands," said Rogers. Suncor doesn't want to shed all of its gas-weighted properties, but in the current price environment, he said, oil is a better business strategy. Suncor likely will spend less of its budget for gas than both companies combined had done in the past, he said.

Suncor plans to structure the revamped gas business the way it did before the Petro-Canada merger, said Rogers. Suncor used gas as a hedge for output used to produce oilsands crude, said Rogers. However, Suncor also would consider joint ventures with producers that have expertise in shale gas, he said.

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