(Adds details on past oil sands sales, potential Husky interest)
By John Tilak and Nia Williams
TORONTO/CALGARY, April 20 (Reuters) - BP Plc is considering the sale of its stakes in three Canadian oil sands projects, people familiar with the matter told Reuters this week, as part of the British oil company’s strategy of retreating from noncore businesses.
BP’s 50 percent stake in the Sunrise project near Fort McMurray in Alberta, where Husky Energy Inc owns the rest and is the operator, is the most valuable of the three assets. BP‘S Sunrise stake is valued at about $810 million, based on recent transactions in the sector.
It also owns a 50 percent stake in Pike, operated by Devon Energy Corp, which is still awaiting a final investment decision, and is majority-owner of the Terre de Grace oil sands pilot project.
A BP spokesman declined to comment. Sources declined to be named as the information is confidential.
The three projects are located in northeastern Alberta.
BP has discussed with advisers the possibility of selling the stakes, though no final decision has been made, the people added.
If the sale proceeds, BP would deploy capital in more attractive regions, such as the Permian basin in the United States, where the rate of return tends to be higher, one of the people said.
BP’s planned move comes after other global energy majors, including ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell have cut their exposure to Canada’s oil sands operations, which are among the world’s most expensive oil plays to develop.
Faced with a lower oil price environment and challenging economics, which include high cost operations and carbon taxes, global players are increasingly put off by the oil sands.
Reuters reported last week that U.S. oil producer Chevron Corp was exploring the sale of its 20 percent stake in Canada’s Athabasca Oil Sands project, which could fetch about $2.5 billion.
BP is focusing its operations in Egypt, Azerbaijan, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and Trinidad in the coming years.
Husky said in February that current production at the Sunrise project is about 36,000 barrels of oil per day. It is in the process of ramping up the project to full capacity of 60,000 bpd but progress has been slower than expected and the company is drilling extra wells to try to speed up production. Husky lowered the 2017 production forecast to 40,000-44,000 bpd from 60,000 bpd.
While Husky is not keen to increase its exposure to the oil sands, it may consider buying BP’s stake if the price is attractive, two sources said.
Husky spokesman Mel Duvall declined to comment on whether the company had discussed buying BP’s stake in Sunrise.
“We take a look at everything, but we have a number of organic growth opportunities,” he added. ($1 = 1.3475 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by John Tilak in Toronto and Nia Williams in Calgary; Additional reporting by Ron Bousso in London, Ethan Lou in Calgary, Alberta; and David French in New York; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)