UPDATE 2-Canadian Natural drops plans to sell Montney shale assets

Thu Jan 9, 2014 1:38pm EST

CALGARY, Alberta Jan 9 (Reuters) - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, Canada's largest independent oil producer, said on Thursday it has dropped plans to sell some of its shale gas-rich Montney properties after failing to attract a suitable offer.

The lands, which straddle the border of northern Alberta and British Columbia, contain an estimated 6.7 trillion cubic feet equivalent of natural gas and high-value gas liquids. Canadian Natural put them on the block last March, looking to raise cash or to find a joint-venture partner for properties that it would otherwise not develop for years.

The company said a number of parties had expressed interest in the properties. "However, none of the expressions were of sufficient merit to complete a transaction at this time," the company said in a statement.

Canadian Natural was one of several companies looking for partners to help develop the liquids-rich shale-gas regions of Western Canada. EnCana Corp, Talisman Energy Inc and others have put lands in the Montney and in Alberta's Duvernay region on the block.

Buyers have been scarce, however. In November, Talisman completed the last large deal in the region, selling a stake in some of its Montney assets to the Canadian unit of Malaysia's Petronas. Petronas is one of a number of companies in the early stages of planning liquefied natural gas projects on Canada's Pacific Coast with the aim of tapping high-paying Asian markets.

"The LNG projects are moving at somewhat less than a snail's pace," said David McColl, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. "There's just not a big rush to do developments in northeastern (British Columbia)."

The decision to seek a joint venture for its property was a rare move for Canadian Natural, which has always steered clear of alliances that would water down its control.

Shares of Canadian Natural were 1 Canadian cent lower at C$35.23 early on Thursday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange.