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Royal Dutch Shell Plc: Oil majors seek unconventional assets

Oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc may rely on oil sands and other unconventional hydrocarbons for about a third of their reserves by 2020 as conventional discoveries dwindle, said Neil McMahon, an oil analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

The share of unconventional oil and gas resources such as liquefied natural gas and oil shale may double to about 38% of Exxon’s hydrocarbon assets by 2020, McMahon said in a June 19 research note.
Shell’s reliance may rise to 37% from 12.9%, enabling it to sustain production as older fields decline.

Dwindling hydrocarbon reserves in areas like the North Sea and oil prices that have climbed above $70 a barrel have made costlier investment in non-conventional oil and gas projects more attractive.

Shell is investing billions of dollars in projects such as the Canadian oil sands, where a crude oil with an extra- high sulfur content is extracted from tar-like reserves.

‘‘The oil companies are quite literally scraping the bottom of the barrel with these heavy oil developments which are high cost and low priced,’’ McMahon said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘‘They are, though, more feasible in today’s high-price environment. The majors are also getting less access to conventional resources.’’

Oil prices reached a record $75.35 on April 24 after militants cut production in Nigeria and the United Nations considered imposing sanctions on Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, to halt its nuclear research.

That has made production of unconventional projects more attractive, where developments costs can be twice as expensive as for conventional projects.

BP Plc, Europe’s largest oil company, and Eni SpA, Europe’s fourth-biggest oil company, may buy unconventional assets because they have fewer such oil and gas projects than Shell or Exxon, McMahon said.

They may be among 15 bidders interested in developing oil-sands properties with Canada’s EnCana Corp, he said.


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