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France's TotalEnergies plans to spin off Canadian oil sands assets

France's TotalEnergies plans to spin off Canadian oil sands assets
France's TotalEnergies plans to spin off Canadian oil sands assets Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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By Nia Williams

-TotalEnergies said on Wednesday it is looking to spin off its Canadian oil sands operations and list the new company on the Toronto Stock Exchange, as the assets do not fit with the French oil major's low-emissions strategy.

At an investor presentation in New York, TotalEnergies said the proposal would be subject to a shareholder vote at its next annual general meeting in May 2023.

The spin-off would include TotalEnergies' 24.58% stake in Suncor Energy's Fort Hills oil sands mining project in northern Alberta and its 50% stake in the ConocoPhillips-operated Surmont thermal project, as well as midstream and trading-related activities.

Canada's oil sands hold some of the world's largest crude reserves but are more carbon-intensive and costly to produce than many conventional oil projects worldwide.

"We are not the best shareholder of these assets because as we have a climate strategy, we don't want to invest in these assets," Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said.

The French major's oil sands assets will generate $1.5 billion of cash flow in 2022, he added.

Pouyanne told investors TotalEnergies had decided on a spin-off because the process would not depend on finding a buyer. The company will maintain a minority stake in the spin-off temporarily to smooth the transition.

The new company would produce just over 100,000 barrels of oil a day, according to Reuters' calculations, making it similar in size to Calgary-based MEG Energy.

TotalEnergies may be able to extract more value with a spin-off rather than a sales process, said Matt Murphy, an analyst at investment firm Raymond James, but the new company could also struggle to stand out in the crowded oil and gas sector.

"At the right price such an opportunity could attract some investor attention, but there's no dearth of opportunity for yield in this space," Murphy said.

TotalEnergies has been retreating from the region for several years and in 2020 took a $9.3 billion impairment on the value of its oil sands assets.

The Fort Hills mining project, majority-owned and operated by Suncor, has been beset by operational issues since it started operating in 2018, resulting in higher costs and a slow production ramp-up.

A Suncor spokesman said it would be premature to comment on what TotalEnergies may be considering.

ConocoPhillips said Surmont was performing well and the company continued to value the asset.

"We're working to understand the plans announced by Total on Wednesday," a ConocoPhillips spokesperson said in an email.

($1 = 1.3614 Canadian dollars)

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