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Oil sands – big up or ship out

Fast-disappearing Oilsands Quest is a prime example of the risks of trying to go it alone in the oil sands. Slack crude prices and a sluggish US economy may now force other small players into mergers and reverse a slowdown in oil sands deals that have plunged 63% this year to $8.5 billion worth of transactions.

The pressure on smaller players does not extend to the big three however. Husky, Imperial and Suncor made a combined $2 billion in profits in the three months to end June, a 50% increase over last year. And output in the oil sands is also up as new in situ technologies improve economics.

Bloomberg reports Bonterra Energy Corp., Southern Pacific Resource Corp., Silverbirch Energy Corp. and Arc Resources Ltd. are among oil sands producers with market values below about C$7 billion that may feel pressure to combine.

Petroleum Economist (sub required) reports Canada’s output of in situ oil sands has risen by about 5% in 2011 thanks mainly to Imperial Oil’s Cold Lake project which supplies about a quarter of the country’s total thermal oil. reported in July how Saskatchewan’s crude hopes were dashed when Oilsands Quest said it will ask for more cash from investors because its almost one-year long global quest to find a heavyweight partner had come up empty handed.

Oilsands Quest was hoping to build the province’s first thermal mine but does not have the wherewithal to go it alone. Last week the company had to extend the time for shareholders to consider its $60 million rights offer – a final attempt at recapitalization – another two weeks. From a high of $7.79 hit in the frothy market of late 2006 the company now trades at a meagre 20c. It has lost just shy of 40% of its value just over the last month.