Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Canadians Seeking Chinese Natural Gas Money
Watching a kitchen faucet burst into flames is startling to say the least.
That’s one of the outrageous scenes you will see if you watch the new documentary Gasland, which was aired last week on HBO.
Produced like the in-your-face sensationalism of Michael Moore, director Josh Fox exposes his take on the negative effects of natural gas drilling in the United States.
Much of the criticism centers on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, and the drilling frenzy in the Marcellus shale underneath Pennsylvania.
Actually, the movie wasn’t broadcast in Canada so I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve only smiled through the exaggerated trailer on YouTube and read through the predictably contemptuous blogs.
So I’m not really qualified to review the flick, even though much of the content looks thin on objectivity and fat on sketchy facts (apparently the gas coming out of the kitchen sink is naturally occurring biogenic gas, not natural gas as implied).
Anyway, Gasland is unlikely to have much effect on the booming North American drilling trend.
Like it or not, there is too much economic momentum behind the business – jobs and wealth creation in depressed regions have a tendency to trump fringe concerns.
And now there is a new twist to the real-life shale gas story – unfolding week-by-week to industry participants like an exciting movie plot – that will continue to keep drilling activity robust: the influx of Asian capital.
Historically, low natural gas prices have been effective in quickly crimping exploration and development investment, sending rigs home and moderating production output.
Waiting for investment to dry up has been the part of the shale gas movie everyone in the natural gas business has been anticipating.
Yet, an announcement by EnCana last week confirms that the plot is taking on a different direction.
Putting pen to paper in a memorandum of understanding, EnCana and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) now have a framework for the two companies to negotiate a potential joint-venture investment in prolific unconventional gas regions of Northeastern British Columbia, specifically, plays in the Horn River, Greater Sierra and Cutbank Ridge areas.
In other words, EnCana will be able to tap into deep, long-term Chinese pockets for exploration and development capital.
The dollar amount is not specified, but I know first hand that Chinese state-owned petroleum companies have difficulty thinking in anything less than 10 figures.
EnCana is not a pioneer in bringing Asian money to shale gas.
About a week ago Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the biggest independent shale gas producers announced that it had sold $900 million in preferred stock to a group of private investors, mostly from Asian sources including China Investment Corp., Korea Investment Corp. and Temasek Holdings of Singapore. Money from India is spilling into North American shale gas too; recently Reliance Industries agreed to pay $1.36b for a 45% stake in Texan shale gas assets, including the liquids-rich Eagle Ford play.
The deal was the second by Reliance since April when it paid $1.7 billion to form a venture with Atlas Energy, a major player in the Marcellus country portrayed by Fox’s Gasland.
Assure yourself that there will be a lot more Asian capital pouring into resource rich areas of Canada and the United States.
But the plot underlying the natural gas movie will have to reach a denouement over the next couple of years, because investment dollars and low gas prices do not mix for long even if the dollars come from the other side of the world.
Relentless drilling at the current pace will continue to pressurize the continent with excess natural gas, to the point where Americans and Canadians will have natural gas coming out of every structural orifice, from kitchen faucets to manhole covers.
Something will have to give before that happens.
You know you have a real energy megatrend when someone makes a contrarian documentary with outrageous claims. Yet the story of natural gas using hydraulic fracturing is no longer just about new technology, aggressive drilling, environmental concern and production growth.
There is a broader plot here that will take the North American shale gas story through another twist or two: the influx of Asian capital followed by reciprocal exports of LNG to Asian markets.
Announcements by large natural gas producers over the past few weeks are like a movie trailer for what’s to come.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Posted by Larry at 4:29 AM