Suncor looking for deals in oilsands ‘exodus’

CALGARY — Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) has a potential opportunity to make further purchases in Alberta’s oilsands if foreign multinationals continue to exit the sector, the oil and gas company’s chief executive said Thursday.

Suncor feels no pressure to buy but is watching closely for opportunities and has the financial strength to act, Suncor CEO Steve Williams on a conference call with analysts.

Williams said he doesn’t think the “exodus” from the Alberta oilsands by big international companies “is quite finished yet” and there are “known sellers out there if you look.”

“And so, there may be some incredible opportunities because I don’t think there are many companies out there now that have a balance sheet capable of purchase,” Williams said.

Later, after the company’s annual meeting, Williams told reporters the potential sellers he was referring to include U.S.-based Chevron, the U.K.’s BP and French energy giant Total.

Suncor said in its quarterly report that completion of construction at the Fort Hills oilsands mine, estimated to cost $16.5 billion to $17 billion, and the $14-billion East Coast Hebron offshore project will free up its capital.

Both projects are expecting first production by year-end.

Suncor increased its ownership of Syncrude Canada last year to over 53 per cent in part by buying American firm Murphy Oil’s five per cent interest. It also bought Canadian Oil Sands’ 37 per cent stake and already had a 12 per cent stake.

Other foreign companies selling oilsands assets in the past year include Americans Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips, Norway’s Statoil and British-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.

Suncor reported Wednesday that first-quarter net earnings rose to $1.35 billion, compared with $257 million a year earlier.

The company announced it may purchase up to $2 billion worth of its shares this year. On the call, chief financial officer Alister Cowan said that while such buybacks aren’t mandatory, the company does intend to be “relatively aggressive” in buying stock starting next week.

Williams pointed out that Suncor’s proposed 80,000-barrel-per-day Meadow Creek East steam-driven oilsands project south of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta received regulatory approval in March.

He said the company’s list of such thermal projects has grown to about 400,000 bpd of capacity but it won’t proceed with any until after 2020.

Suncor said it had total upstream production of 725,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the three months ended March 31, compared with 691,400 boe/d in the year-earlier quarter, driven mainly by its increased ownership interest in Syncrude Canada acquired during 2016.

Oilsands production came to 448,500 barrels per day in the first quarter of 2017.

Suncor cut its expectation for its share of Syncrude production this year by 15,000 bpd to between 135,000 and 150,000 bpd because of a fire at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake oilsands upgrader on March 14. Full production is not expected until late June.

But Williams said strong performance at its East Coast and North Sea offshore projects allowed Suncor to add 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to its expectations for non-oilsands production to leave its overall guidance unchanged.

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