Athabasca Oil is looking for a joint-venture partner to help develop its land in Alberta's Duvernay shale region this year, CEO Sveinung Svarte said Wednesday.
The oil company currently has nearly 142,000 hectares of land in the Duvernay, about 81,000 of which is in the "sweet spot" of the region.
Developing the Duvernay has "large capital needs," so taking on a partner would be an "ideal" situation, Svarte said at the TD Securities Calgary Energy Conference.
Athabasca disclosed nearly a year ago that it was in the early stages of forming a joint venture for its Hangingstone and Birch oil sands properties, though no deal has come to fruition yet.
On Wednesday, Svarte said that process was still ongoing.
"We're still working on that and we hope to have something done, and just cannot tell about the timing," he said.
"But there's still parties interested in those joint ventures and we hope to have it done."
In the meantime, Athabasca is moving ahead with the first phase of Hangingstone on its own. In November, its board of directors gave the green light to the $536-million project.
The first 12,000-per-day phase of the steam-driven project is expected to start producing oil in early 2015. Athabasca plans to follow it up with two expansions that will bring daily production up to around 80,000 barrels.
Another Canadian energy company, Talisman Energy Inc., is actively marketing its holdings in the Duvernay as part of a broader plan to trim its portfolio.
John Rossal, Talisman's senior vice-president for Canada, said the company is aiming for an outright sale.
"Our preference in the North Duvernay would probably be a cash disposition, although if the right JV opportunity came along we would certainly seriously consider that," Rossal told the conference.
"I think it's fair to say that the JV market may have cooled somewhat from what we've seen a year, two years ago."
Athabasca's Svarte said the appetite for Duvernay deals is a lot greater than in the oil sands.
"We still see four-five players worldwide looking for oil sands and they're just looking for the right opportunity. There has to be size and quality. We believe it can still be done," he said.
"In Duvernay it's probably a lot different. We probably see five times more players internationally, 20 or 30, looking for positions."
Athabasca is no stranger to joint ventures. In 2009, it sold a 60 per cent interest in its MacKay River and Dover oil sands projects to PetroChina.
Early last year, PetroChina exercised its option to buy Athabasca's 40 per cent stake in MacKay River for $680-million.
The Chinese company will have the opportunity to do the same with Dover later this year. PetroChina can buy Athabasca's Dover stake for $1.32-billion within a month of the project obtaining regulatory approval – something Svarte said he expects to happen later this month or early August.