February 20, 2019 12:01 pm
Updated: February 20, 2019 1:16 pm

U.S. based Devon Energy says it intends to exit Canadian oilsands sector

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Mark Jaccard from Simon Fraser University explains his position on what it will take economically for the oilsands to be viable and how that won't work if we want to reduce greenhouse gasses.

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Another foreign oil company says it’s getting out of the Canadian oilsands.

Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. announced after markets closed Tuesday that it will pursue the “separation” of its Canadian assets and its Barnett Shale holdings in Texas from its core business.

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It intends to open data rooms for potential suitors in the second quarter and says it hopes to announce by year-end a deal or deals that could include an outright sale or creation of new companies to own and operate the assets.

READ MORE: ‘Making this up’ — Study says oilsands assessments marred by weak science

“With our world-class U.S. oil resource plays rapidly building momentum and achieving operating scale, the final step in our multi-year transformation is an aggressive, transformational move that will accelerate value creation for our shareholders by further simplifying our resource-rich asset portfolio,” said CEO Dave Hager in a news release.

On Wednesday morning, Devon’s shares rose by as much as 14.9 per cent to US$32.53 on the New York Stock Exchange.

WATCH BELOW: There’s been a shift to more Canadian ownership of oilsands projects in Alberta. As Tom Vernon reports, that has some MLAs worried foreign companies are in a hurry to leave. (Aired April 2017)

Other foreign companies that have reduced their ownership in the oilsands in recent years include Norway’s Statoil, France’s Total SA, Arkansas-based Murphy Oil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips.

Devon owns the Jackfish steam-driven oilsands complex, which opened in 2007 and has grown through three identical phases to a capacity of 105,000 barrels per day of bitumen (although it has produced as much as 128,000 bpd in the past).

READ MORE: Devon Energy cuts 200 jobs in Canada, including northern Alberta and Calgary offices

It’s also the operator of the proposed 105,000-bpd Pike oilsands project in a 50/50 partnership with London-based BP PLC. Pike received provincial regulatory approval in 2014 but has not yet been green-lighted for construction.

It also owns conventional heavy oil wells near Lloydminster, Alta., that produce more than 15,000 bpd.

Both Pike and Jackfish are south of Fort McMurray near similar operations owned by Calgary-based rivals Cenovus Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and MEG Energy Corp.

In research notes, CIBC analyst Jon Morrison says the Canadian assets would likely fetch between $3.5 billion and $5 billion if sold, while Eight Capital analyst Phil Skolnick estimates they could sell for between $7 billion and $9 billion.

“Although we believe the asset base is attractive and provides a large base of concentrated production with a long resource tail, this is a challenging market to divest Canadian oil assets,” wrote Morrison, citing the current forced Alberta curtailments designed to draw down a glut of trapped crude oil and “the opaqueness and unknowns” due to a lack of long-term pipeline takeaway capacity in Western Canada.

READ MORE: BP mulls sale of stakes in Canadian oil sands assets: sources

The most likely purchasers are large Canadian oilsands companies led by Imperial Oil Ltd., but possibly others including Canadian Natural, Husky Energy Inc. and Suncor Energy Inc., he said.

WATCH BELOW: Premier Rachel Notley has rolled out a multi-billion dollar plan to get more Alberta oil onto train cars and off to market.

Husky’s recent failed attempt to buy MEG for a combination of cash and shares makes it an obvious potential buyer, said Skolnick, but he suggested Devon’s preference for cash to pay down debt may make a Husky offer less likely.

READ MORE: Husky Energy walks away from its hostile takeover bid for MEG Energy

Imperial is the most likely buyer, he said, because Devon’s assets would give immediate exposure to improving heavy oil prices.

That would allow Imperial to postpone its proposed Aspen oilsands project after recently calling its future into question in response to the Alberta curtailments and their affect on crude-by-rail economics.

Devon says it is making the move to exit Canada (as well as from the Barnett Shale area in Texas) so that it can complete its “transformation to a high-return U.S. oil growth business.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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