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TORONTO and CALGARY — A number of foreign companies are flocking to Canada’s oil patch in search of acquisitions and investments as Ottawa weighs the $15.1-billion takeover of energy company Nexen Inc. by China’s CNOOC Ltd.
While it is not unusual for companies to circle the oil patch, interviews with a dozen industry sources and deal makers over a month have revealed a picture of an industry set for a massive influx of foreign capital while the window to foreign investment remains open.
Industry executives and advisers say offshore buyers are currently in discussions or touring the operations of a wide variety of Canadian oil sands, conventional petroleum, natural gas, oil service and refining operations.
Some of these potential acquirers include state-owned entities such as Korea National Oil Corp. (KNOC) and others from China, Malaysia and Kuwait, sources said. A handful of private-sector oil and gas giants are also on the hunt, including France-based Total SA. Joining these suitors is a new class of Asian buyers believed to include privately held Chinese companies and one of China’s largest cities, Tsingtau.
The takeover interest has been sparked by a combination of recent declines in oil and gas prices and a perception in some international circles that Canada favours foreign investment to help finance production, particularly in the oil sands, where the cost of development is expected to crest $100-billion over the next decade.
“If you think Nexen is something of a big deal, you ain’t seen anything yet,” said Wenran Jiang, a special adviser to Alberta’s Department of Energy on Asian energy markets. “The new trend is large-scale Chinese private capital that will come into the Canadian market.”
A wide variety of international acquirers are looking for investments in the oil patch. France’s Total has been searching for – and making – oil sands deals for a few years. According to people close to the Nexen negotiations, Total was a bidder for the Calgary company, but stepped out of the race after CNOOC tabled an offer with a rich premium of more than 60 per cent above the Calgary company’s stock price. Sources said Total is still seeking a Canadian acquisition. A spokesperson for the company did not return calls.
State-owned KNOC is also on the hunt for a multibillion-dollar acquisition to expand its holdings in the oil sands, according to sources. Its search comes three years after it acquired Harvest Energy Trust in 2009 for $4.1-billion. A Calgary-based official with KNOC said he was unaware of any acquisition plans.
Kuwait confirmed earlier this month that its state-owned petroleum company has a preliminary deal to invest close to $4-billion in an oil sands joint venture with Athabasca Oil Corp. People familiar with talks said a final pact is not expected for weeks.
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