Japan's Sumitomo Corp. agreed Wednesday to pay Devon Corp. $1.4 billion for a 30% stake in 650,000 net acres in the Permian Basin's Cline and Midland-Wolfcamp shales.

Devon CEO John Richels, who has not been averse to taking partners to help pay for development costs, said earlier this year that the Cline Shale was a top candidate for a joint venture (see Shale Daily, April 5; Jan. 4a).

"This transaction once again demonstrates the value embedded in our high quality portfolio," said Richels. "This arrangement will materially enhance Devon's future returns and improve our capital efficiency. It will also further enhance our financial strength."

Sumitomo already is a substantial exploration and midstream player in U.S. unconventional plays with investments in the Barnett and Marcellus shales (see Shale Daily, May 18; Feb. 18, 2011). Last year the company indicated that it was looking for more partnerships in North America (see Shale Daily, July 28, 2011).

"For quite some time we have had a strong working relationship with Sumitomo and look forward to a mutually beneficial joint venture," said Richels.

When the transaction closes, which is expected before the end of September, Sumitomo agreed to invest $340 million in cash. Another $1.025 billion would be invested through a drilling carry, which would fund 70% of Devon's capital requirements. Devon said the arrangement would result in Sumitomo paying 79% of the overall drilling and completion costs over the carry period.

The partners now plan to drill about 40 gross wells through December. Based on the current work plan, the entire drilling carry by Sumitomo is expected to be realized by mid-2014, Devon said.

Devon is serving as operator of the partnership and would be responsible for commercially marketing all production from these plays into the North American market. The effective date of the transaction is Jan. 1, 2012.

Sumitomo's latest partnership joins a long list of joint ventures put together in the U.S. onshore, especially in the last four years as unconventional drilling has grown. Asia Pacific companies have been particularly keen in acquiring North American unconventional leaseholds.

Among the Asia Pacific producers now holding substantial interests in the U.S. onshore are China's CNOOC Ltd. and Sinopec Group; Japan's Marubeni Corp., Mitsui Ltd. and Itochu Corp.; and South Korea's KNOC and Atinum Partners.

Devon tapped a unit of Sinopec early this year to invest $2.2 billion to acquire a one-third interest in five of its frontier unconventional oil and gas fields: 1.2 million net acres in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, Niobrara, Mississippian, Ohio's Utica Shale and the Michigan Basin.

Also in January a unit of Marubeni struck a deal to acquire a 35% stake in Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co.'s 52,000 net acres in the Eagle Ford Shale (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9).

Chesapeake Energy Corp. has been relentless in pursuing foreign dollars for its onshore portfolio. From 2008 through 2010 the Oklahoma City-based explorer obtained joint venture agreements with global energy producers that included London's BP plc, Norway's Statoil ASA and CNOOC (see Shale Daily, Dec. 22, 2010; Oct. 12, 2010).

France's Total SA has partnered with Chesapeake in the U.S. onshore as well. Early this year Total agreed to pay $2.32 billion for a 25% stake in Chesapeake's Utica Shale leasehold (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4b). Total first gained entry in the U.S. shale business in late 2009 when it paid $2.25 billion to secure a one-quarter interest in Chesapeake's Barnett Shale properties.

Mitsui is another aggressive foreign buyer in several U.S. energy sectors. In addition to its offshore partnerships in the Gulf of Mexico and investments in the U.S. midstream sector, Mitsui affiliates are partners in the Eagle Ford with SM Energy (see Shale Daily, June 30, 2011). Mitsui also paid $1.4 billion to Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in early 2010 for a stake in the Marcellus Shale.