India pursuing Canadian oil sands

Sept. 28, 2012 at 1:33 PM
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TORONTO, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- India is becoming more interested in Canadian energy assets, a government official says.

"Discussions have been initiated," said Indian Consul General Preeti Saran in an interview Thursday at the Indian Consulate in Toronto with The Globe and Mail newspaper.

"There has been a lot of interest and interaction that has taken place," Saran said, noting the interest is coming from both private- and public-sector Indian energy companies including the Reliance Group and ONGC Videsh Ltd.

Her comments follow reports this week that Indian companies were exploring potential purchases of Canadian oil sands assets of ConocoPhillips.

Investment bankers who spoke to The Globe and Mail on condition of not being identified also say that Indian state-owned oil companies have been actively scouring Canada for an oil sands asset and have attended a number of recent auctions.

That makes India the latest entry among foreign countries pursuing Canadian energy assets, Including China, Korea, Norway and Europe.

The DBRS debt-rating agency says that about 70 percent of the $28 billion of Canadian oil sands takeovers since 2007 were by foreign companies, half of which were state-owned.

China has made a number of multibillion-dollar investments in Canada's energy assets in recent years.

While the overseas division of India's ONGC plans to spend up to $20 billion by 2030 to acquire global assets, says a report in Canada's Financial Post, India's approach is less aggressive compared to China.

"It seems that (Chinese) state-owned enterprises can act more expeditiously than the Indian companies can," said Peter Sutherland, vice chairman of the Canada-India Business Council and former Canadian High Commissioner to India, the Post reports.

Some experts also say that India lacks the resources to compete with other foreign investors for oil sands assets.

"They don't have as deep pockets as the Chinese or the Koreans and to some extent the Thais, Japanese and Malaysians that have made a stake here," Yuen Pau Woo, chief executive of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada told the Post.

Aside from having a smaller pool of capital, Yuen says, India "also might just be a little less motivated and a little less on the ball."

India's interest in Canadian energy assets includes potential takeovers, joint ventures or other strategic investments in natural gas assets, says Naval Bajaj, president of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce.

But Bajaj says Canada's ambiguous rules regarding takeovers by foreign companies are frustrating.

"I think that is a challenge that the government should try to look into," Bajaj was quoted as saying by The Globe and Mail. "When you make the policies simple and straight, it helps the other companies throughout the world to invest."

India is the world's fourth-largest oil importer, importing about 80 percent of its oil needs.

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