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Husky targets 50% production hike by 2020

The oil pipeline and tank storage facilities at the Husky Energy oil terminal in Hardisty, Alta.

Larry MacDougal/CP

Husky Energy Inc. will shed some assets and look for joint venture partners as it works to boost oil and gas production by more than 50 per cent over the next decade.

At the company's first-ever investor day in Toronto Wednesday, executives sketched growth plans that will see Husky use oil sands and Asian offshore gas projects to grow production and jack up reserves, reversing a trend that has seen output languish over the past decade.

"By 2020, Husky expects to grow oil sands production by over 100,000 barrels per day," said Rob Peabody, the company's chief operating officer.

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In the same period, the company will look to increase "our gas production in excess of 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent, predominantly from Asia," he said.

The increase of more than 150,000 barrels comes from a company that in 2009 produced 306,500 barrels a day of oil equivalent. Despite the company's $1.2-billion in recent acquisition - most of it natural gas - Husky will maintain a roughly 70-30 oil-gas split in its production, executives said.

The company believes technological advances will allow it to extract another 800-million barrels of heavy oil from a foundational part of its western Canada operations - a tally that exceeds the total it has produced over the past half-century - and says some of those advances will help it to achieve short-term growth as well.

Over the next five years, Husky aims to grow production by three to per cent per year and reserves by 140 per cent per year, while maintaining its dividend.

"We're positioning ourselves as a balanced growth company rather than a milk-the-cow company," said Asim Ghosh, the Husky chief executive officer who has overseen the change in course since his installation six months ago.

When he started with Husky, Mr. Ghosh said he was struck by "what an incredible resource base this company has."

"By and large," he said, "our challenge is how to commercialize on the opportunities we've got. That requires money and that requires a plan and that requires time."

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Part of the company's money requirements will come from disposing of what chief financial officer Alister Cowan called "some smaller non-core peripheral assets." Husky also hopes to bring in joint venture partners to develop the substantial holdings it has acquired in so-called "unconventional" natural gas fields, which include the prolific Montney and Horn River plays in north-eastern Alberta.

The bulk of its growth, however, will come from the oil sands, where its $2.5-billion (U.S.) Sunrise project - a joint venture with BP Plc - will begin construction next year. Husky will sign contracts with engineering, procurement and construction firms "shortly," said John Myer, vice-president of oil sands.

Under the terms of Husky's agreement on Sunrise, BP will fund the first $2.5-billion in development costs while Husky will pay the first $2.5-billion in costs on the expansion and conversion of a joint-owned refinery in Toledo, Ohio, which will be used to process bitumen from Sunrise.

Plans to spend in Toledo are, however, being re-examined in light of the dramatic downturn in the U.S. refining market, Mr. Ghosh said.

"That has affected some of our timing calls on what we are doing," he said. "We will be optimizing how we will spend that capital, so that we don't get to far ahead of ourselves in building upgrading capacity."

At Sunrise, the first phase of construction - the one the company will soon begin - is expected to produce 60,000 barrels per day. That tally is expected to hit 200,000 barrels per day by the end of the decade; Husky anticipates sanctioning the second phase in 2014, but will begin early engineering work next year.

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Beyond the oil sands, Husky is looking to the Atlantic for potential growth. It is devoting more resources to Greenland, where recent drilling results from Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy Plc demonstrated that hydrocarbons are present in what could be a massive field. It also continues to eye the potential for producing natural gas off the Canadian East Coast, where current oil platforms like White Rose currently reinject gas into underground reservoirs.

"We are not discussing with you today any specific plans to exploit that, because it's not built into our financial model. ... But it's something that's very much in our minds," said Mr. Ghosh, who detailed company plans to change the way it operates in the Atlantic offshore.

Instead of using floating rigs, the company has begun early engineering work on a fixed platform.

"Once you have a fixed platform, you have an up-front fixed cost, but your variable cost plummets," he said. "That allows you to optimize your extraction costs. A corollary of that is that it opens up a lot of optionality around gas."

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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