Suncor Energy Inc. is selling the bulk of its Western Canadian natural gas business to a British-Qatari partnership for $1 billion, but will hang on to its undeveloped shale lands in the Montney region of B.C. for now.
The deal with Britain's Centrica PLC and Qatar Petroleum International includes conventional properties throughout Alberta, northeastern British Columbia and southern Saskatchewan.
The sale shows Suncor's "commitment to capital discipline," CEO Steve Williams said in a release Monday.
"We will continuously review and refine our portfolio of assets to ensure we are investing in projects that deliver profitable growth and strong returns for our shareholders."
Deal will need regulatory approval
The transaction is subject to regulatory approval — including the Competition Bureau and Investment Canada — and is expected to close in the third quarter of 2013.
Production from the business is estimated to be about 42,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day this year. Suncor will adjust its guidance accordingly once the deal closes.
Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said the company will direct the proceeds of the sale toward three priorities: investing in its base business, pursuing profitable growth projects and returning cash to shareholders through dividends or share buybacks.
Suncor has sold billions in assets in Canada, the U.S. and around the world since it merged with Petro-Canada in 2009, as it focuses most of its attention on its core oilsands business.
Last month, Suncor said it was cancelling its troubled Voyageur oilsands upgrader because market conditions rendered it economically challenged. The company took a $1.5-billion writedown on Voyageur during the fourth quarter of 2012.
The sale announced Monday excludes Suncor's undeveloped shale gas properties in the Montney region of northeastern B.C. and unconventional oil assets in Wilson Creek, Alta.
At least two other major Canadian energy firms — Talisman Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. — have said recently they're looking to do deals for their Montney holdings.
Seetal said it's too soon to say what Suncor could do with its Montney land.
"We are evaluating a number of options for the development of those assets. We feel there could be great potential in these lands and we need to prove up the potential first."
Under the deal announced Monday, Centrica will own 60 per cent of the newly acquired business and operate it, with its Qatari partner owning the rest.
Centrica is no stranger to Suncor. In 2010, a subsidiary bought the Wildcat Hills property northwest of Calgary from Suncor for $375 million.
Centrica owns the Direct Energy business that operates in all 10 Canadian provinces and most of the United States.
Besides selling natural gas and electricity to homes, Direct Energy provides residential and business services, provides gas storage and transportation and produces energy through its upstream operations.
Once the deal with Suncor closes, Centrica will be able to meet 60 per cent of the unregulated daily gas needs of its North American customers.
"In today's competitive energy environment this acquisition represents an ideal strategic fit for Centrica's existing upstream portfolio and skill sets," said Wes Morningstar, a Centrica senior vice-president with Centrica in Calgary.
"Growing our upstream gas operations is an important step to ensuring the company is a solid long-term partner to millions of residential and business customers across North America."
Nasser Al-Jaidah, chief executive of Qatar Petroleum International, said "this investment in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is a significant step in the development of QPI's global upstream business."
It's the first deal under a memorandum of understanding signed between the two parties in December 2011.
Suncor shares were down about 3.5 per cent around mid-day Monday at $27.82. The decrease came on a day that oil prices dropped to their lowest level since mid-December to near US$89 per barrel.