PetroChina to develop shale gas in Alberta via partnership with Encana

PRC energy giant PetroChina (SEHK:0857) will undertake the development of shale gas in Alberta via a partnership with Canadian natural gas titan Encana Corp. (TSX:ECA).

Bloomberg reports that PetroChina, the PRC's biggest oil producer and the listed arm of state-owned behemoth China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), has agreed to pay Encana a consideration of USD$1.2 billion for a 49.9% stake in the Duvernay shale gas formation in west-central Alberta, as well as contribute a further C$1 billion over four years to fund the project's development.

The Huffington Post reports that Encana will work with PetroChina subsidiary Phoenix Duvernay Gas to develop the shale natural gas formation, with Phoenix slated to obtain ownership of just under half of the 180,000 hectares in the Duvernayheld by Encana.

Phoenix's minority ownership stake means the deal will be free from the federal scrutiny imposed upon the recent Nexen deal.

News of the deal arrives immediately following the take-over of Alberta-based petroleum producer Nexen by CNOOC for $15.1 billion, making it China's largest ever overseas acquisition.

The Nexen takeover has triggered considerable controversy and confusion within Canada due to inconsistencies in the application of foreign investment laws and deep concern over the sale of the country's natural resources to the state-owned concerns of an authoritarian nation-state.

Eric Nuttall, a portfolio manager with Sprott Asset Management LP in Toronto, says PetroChina was awaiting the outcome of the Nexen deal in order to obtain "clarification of the rules surrounding state-owned ownership."

The PetroChina deal is the first struck between Canada and a overseas state-owned company since the introduction of new foreign investment rules by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on December 7 prohibiting state-owned acquisition of Canadian oil-sands operations unless in "exceptional circumstances."

The new rules do not prohibit joint ventures and minority stakes, however, and should be inapplicable to PetroChina's shale gas purchase.