Chesapeake Seeking Asian Investors for US Gas Projects

BEIJING(Dow Jones Newswires), July 8, 2010

Chesapeake is seeking Chinese and other Asian investors to take stakes in multibillion dollar gas projects in the U.S., Chief Financial Officer Marcus Rowland said Thursday.

Chesapeake, one of the pioneers in opening up vast new reserves of natural gas in the U.S., has been talking to some Chinese oil firms about buying as much as 20% of its Eagle Ford field in Texas, Rowland told reporters in Beijing. He estimated the total cost of that project could be $4 billion. Chesapeake also is talking to Asian investors about buying as much as a 10% stake in the Marcellus shale gas field in the eastern U.S.

Rowland didn't specify which other Asian countries Chesapeake is looking for partners in. He said Chesapeake hopes to announce a deal by the third quarter of this year. Any deal with a Chinese company would likely involve training Chinese oil engineers, he said.

Analysts say China is eager to replicate the dramatic increases in U.S. domestic natural-gas reserves that have come from tapping unconventional supplies such as shale and coal-seam gas. Those efforts have reshaped global energy markets and sharply reduced U.S. reliance on gas imports. Chinese energy companies have been investing in unconventional gas overseas to study how to develop their own reserves back home.

Chinese state-owned oil companies and officials are keen to reduce China's dependence on imports of gas, a cleaner burning alternative to the coal that is China's primary energy source. But until the recent flurry of activity in North America, China's big oil companies ignored domestic unconventional gas supplies and focused on traditional domestic gas fields and ramping up imports to meet growing demand. China is committed to long-term contracts for much of that gas at prices that might be higher than what they might have to pay for domestic shale gas, which some analysts say could limit the speed of development in China.

But China's second biggest oil company, China Petroleum & Chemical has set up its first specialized team to develop domestic shale gas resources. And China's biggest oil company, China National Petroleum, has been pursuing deals overseas in shale gas and other types of unconventional gas supplies. China National Petroleum is talking to Canadian shale gas company Encana about possibly jointly investing in Canadian shale gas reserves. And the Chinese oil company's listed unit, PetroChina, along with Shell, bought Arrow Energy, an Australian producer of coal-seam gas.

Chinese oil companies have been reluctant to invest in the U.S. ever since Chinese offshore oil company Cnooc was thwarted in its 2005 bid to takeover California-based Unocal Corp. by strong political opposition. If Chesapeake were to secure Chinese investment for a substantial stake in an onshore U.S. energy asset, it could face political resistance, but a success could mark a turning point for such investments.

Last month, Chesapeake announced it had sold some $1.7 billion in preferred stock to a group of private investors, including sovereign wealth funds China Investment Corp., Korea Investment Corp. and Singapore's Temasek Holdings.

Rowland said the stock sale was to raise capital and get introductions to more possible strategic investors, including Chinese oil companies and commercial banks. Chesapeake, which is one of the largest U.S. producers of natural gas, needs cash to repay $12 billion in debt and to fund continued ambitious expansion plans.

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