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Bellatrix embarks on light-oil venture with S. Korean partner

Bellatrix embarks on light-oil venture with S. Korean partner

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Bellatrix Exploration Ltd. announced Tuesday it will partner with a South Korean firm in a $300-million joint venture to further develop light oil plays in west-central Alberta, showing Asian investment continues to flow into the oil patch.

The agreement sees the unnamed partner contribute 50 per cent, or $150-million, to participate in a program likely to include 83 wells drilled north of Rocky Mountain House.

Bellatrix executive vice-president Brent Eshleman said one of the conditions of the deal was keeping the South Korean private investment fund's name under wraps.

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Bellatrix's capital expenditure plan for 2013 is expected to increase to between $230-million and $240-million – not including the money from the joint venture partner – up from the previously announced $180-million.

It's the latest a list of South Korea transactions in the Canadian energy sector.

In 2009, state-run Korea National Oil Corp. acquired Harvest Energy Trust for $4.1-billion. Royal Dutch Shell PLC is leading Korea Gas Corp., Mitsubishi Corp. and PetroChina Co. Ltd. in a consortium to build one of the proposed West Coast LNG terminals near Kitimat, B.C.

Ken Mills, the managing partner at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP's Calgary office, said new federal rules that subject foreign state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to more scrutiny have introduced a degree of uncertainty to the market. However, he expects money from Asia's private investors – as well as minority stake investments from SOEs – to continue to flow as Ottawa has largely left that area of foreign investment untouched.

"Our transaction lawyers will probably be busy, certainly on the joint venture front," Mr. Mills said of the coming year.

"There is a fair bit of capital which investors in Asia have. I think energy is viewed as an attractive market to get into – certainly longer term."

Bellatrix, with oil and gas assets in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, is just one of dozens of players in the massive Cardium region, the country's largest light oil play. The area has seen a revival of drilling projects in the past three and half years, said Mr. Eshleman, with the introduction of new horizontal drilling technologies.

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"Bellatrix has been drilling since Day 1, with numerous other companies throughout the area – lots of competition through there – into this tight sand," he said.

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