China-backed Sunshine Oilsands Ltd. has budgeted about US$3.5 billion for capital investment in its Canadian oil-sands projects at a time when investors are on edge about the investment climate in energy-rich Canada.
The Calgary-based energy company’s projects are still in a preliminary stage, but it is aiming for its first production in the fourth quarter of 2013, with output of 5,000 barrels a day by mid-2014, Co-Chairman Shen Songning said in an interview.
Mr. Shen’s optimism about the projects—based in Athabasca Sands, Alberta—comes at a tense time for Chinese and other foreign investors hoping to capitalize on Canada’s huge reserves of oil and natural gas, much of which are expensive to extract as they are trapped in oil-sands deposits or in shale-rock formations.
Last month, the Canadian government turned down a US$5.18 billion bid by Malaysia’s state-run Petroliam Nasional Bhd., or Petronas, to acquire Canada’s Progress Energy Corp. The bid isn’t dead, however, as the two sides have agreed to resume talks on the purchase.
The two deals are a litmus test for Canada’s aspirations to develop its oil and gas reserves and find new export markets at a time when its main buyer, the U.S., is cutting energy imports due to the success of shale projects there.
“Conventional oil supply is in demand and global production is expected to transition toward unconventional sources,” said Mr. Shen. “We see Canada’s oil sands playing a major role in meeting the needs of the world’s growing crude demand.”
Oil sands—a mix of sand and tarlike ultraheavy crude oil called bitumen—are costly to refine, but higher crude prices in recent years have made production from oil sands more feasible. Canada’s oil sands will likely account for 4.4% of global crude-oil output by 2035, up from 1.6% in 2009, the International Energy Agency has said.
Mr. Shen said the US$3.5 billion expenditure will be funded by cash flow from existing projects and potential energy joint ventures, as well as bank loans and proceeds from Sunshine Oilsands’ Hong Kong initial public offering in March. Possible joint-venture investors include China sovereign-wealth fund China Investment Corp. and China oil company China Petrochemical Corp., also known as Sinopec Group.
The company’s oil-sands projects can achieve positive cash flow per barrel when West Texas Intermediate prices are above US$50 a barrel, Mr. Shen said.
“We see oil prices hovering around US$100 a barrel over the next three to five years as demand for oil is rising on the back of strong economic growth in Asia,” he said. He didn’t specify whether he was referring to benchmark West Texas Intermediate or Brent crude.
He also said the company’s operations could benefit from falling natural-gas prices, because fuel costs account for 20% of Sunshine Oilsands’ total production expenses.
Sunshine Oilsands, which raised $579 million from the Hong Kong IPO, is planning a secondary listing in Toronto in the fourth quarter to increase shareholder value. The company’s share price has fallen 46% in Hong Kong since the stock’s debut.
“Our current share prices are extremely undervalued,” Mr. Shen said, adding the company’s net asset value per share is at 21.40 Hong Kong dollars (US$2.76). Shares in Sunshine Oilsands closed at HK$2.62 on Thursday.
In response to the decline in its share price, Sunshine Oilsands recently announced a $50 million share-repurchase program.