OTTAWA (Dow Jones)
Suncor Energy Inc. (SU) is unlikely to follow its Canadian oil sands peers in teaming up with a U.S. refiner, preferring to buy a refinery when asset prices fall, Chief Executive Rick George said Tuesday.
However, the company's focus will be on major oil sands expansion projects over the next couple of years, primarily the C$4.4 billion Voyageur South project, George said in a conference call.
"My fundamental belief is that reserves in the ground are going to have higher value than refining assets," George said. "It's pretty hard to do a (joint venture) deal when you have that kind of mindset."
A number of Canadian oil sands producers have teamed up with refineries in the U.S. Midwest to process the sludgy bitumen into high value refined oil products. EnCana Corp. (ECA) and ConocoPhillips (COP) kicked off the trend in late 2006; most recently, BP PLC (BP) replicated this deal with Husky Energy Inc. (HSE.T), reversing its longstanding skepticism of the oil sands.
George didn't rule out a joint venture, however, and said the company will be talking to interested U.S. refiners "for sure."
Suncor is planning a massive increase in its oil sands output to 550,000 barrels a day by 2012, in its bid to overtake the Syncrude consortium as Canada's biggest oil sands producer. The Voyageur South project is a key component, expected to add 120,000 barrels a day once it starts in 2011.
"Suncor has its plate full: Voyageur is a huge project...we're going to be very Voyageur-centric over the next couple of years," George said. "You wouldn't expect Suncor to come out with a big (refinery) purchase."
Refinery asset prices are still high, though starting to fall as refining margins are squeezed, and will eventually "come into the range where Suncor will find them acceptable," he added.
Suncor owns a 70,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Sarnia, Ontario, and a 90,000 barrel-a-day facility in Commerce City, Colo.
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