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China is still purchasing Canadian oil assets – just smaller ones

Pumpjack at horizontal Cardium well

Yangarra Resources Ltd.

China Oil and Gas Group Ltd. is buying a private Canadian energy company for $236-million in what has become a trend in Asian buyers launching takeovers for small firms since the Harper government imposed tougher rules on deals in late 2012.

China Oil and Gas, a natural gas distributor as well as an operator of LNG plants and compressed natural gas-filling stations in China, is buying Calgary-based Baccalieu Energy Inc., which put itself on the auction block early this year.

Baccalieu operates in west-central Alberta, concentrating on uncoventional oil and gas operations in a formation known as the Cardium.

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Its senior executives, including chief executive officer Aidan Walsh and chief financial officer Scott Dyck, have agreed to stay on for at least two years to keep developing the business, China Oil and Gas said.

There have been only a handful of takeovers by foreign companies in the Canadian oil patch since Ottawa essentially closed the door on acquisitions of controlling interests in the oil sands by state-owned foreign firms when it approved the $15.1-billion takeover of Nexen Inc. by CNOOC Ltd. 19 months ago.

The more stringent investment regulations put no new limits on buying energy assets outside the northern Alberta oil sands, the third-largest crude reserves in the world. However, some investment bankers have said that the restrictions have scared off potential investors in other energy plays as well.

Nick Johnson, managing director of corporate finance at FirstEnergy Capital Corp., Baccalieu's financial adviser, said he has not seen that. His firm has been involved in three recent deals involving foreign buyers for Canadian energy assets.

Interest among Asian buyers remains, though the preference is for light-oil plays, such as those operated by Baccalieu, Mr. Johnson said.

"It's the cash flow, it's the earnings," he said in an interview. "The LNG proposition is still a few years out, so it's harder to secure the reserves today because of the discount factor. If you have to buy the company today and you can't export the product for a number of years, it's more difficult to come to a value proposition."

China Oil and Gas, listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, is scooping up a company that produced 4,244 barrels of oil equivalent a day in the first quarter of this year. Two-thirds of that was oil and gas liquids and the remainder natural gas. In 2013, it earned $20-million on revenue of $74.7-million.

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Baccalieu has stakes in 469 square kilometres in the Pembina, Ferrier, Sylvan Lake and Harmattan areas of west-central Alberta, where its proved and probable reserves are pegged at 22 million barrels of oil equivalent.

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