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A Canadian Natural Resources pump jack pumps oil out of the ground near Dorothy, Alta., June 30, 2009© Todd Korol / Reuters/Reuters

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which recently joined the slew of companies trying to offload some of their natural gas plays, has picked out its bankers to help it find a buyer – a potential deal that could influence the company's liquefied natural gas plans.

CNRL hired BMO to help market the 243,000 acres of its Montney holdings the oil and gas outfit recently put on the auction block, Steve Laut, CNRL's president, told reporters at the company's investor day Wednesday. This slice represents a little less than a quarter of its leases there.

The data room opened about a week ago, and the company already has potential partners knocking on its door.

"Obviously the reason we went there is because we had a bunch of inquiries about our asset base," Mr. Laut said.

Deals have slowed to a trickle in Canada's oil patch, although a handful of properties in areas rich in natural gas – places like the Montney – are up for grabs. While this could stoke sales and partnerships, it could also dampen prices. Mr. Laut is adamant the company will not part with its property unless the buyer meets hits the price CNRL has in mind.

CNRL, which boasts assets from the oil sands to South Africa, is not pursuing an LNG project right now, but its Montney deal could affect the company's plans. Asian buyers, for example, have the desire and dough to fund LNG export efforts. Malaysia's Petronas, for example, picked off Progress Energy Resources Corp. last year and is now chipping away at its LNG aspirations. Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. Ltd. earlier this year bought into that project and signed a 20-year export agreement.

CNRL is sitting on the sidelines, but that could change.

"We'll see what comes out of this Montney disposition, but it is not high on our priority list," Mr. Laut said.

The executive also addressed capital spending across the industry. Natural gas players have slowed spending despite a rally in the commodity, but their cash flow is still under pressure, Mr. Laut noted.

"It is tough. Access capital is not the same for some of the smaller companies," he said. "It is more difficult for them to raise money and they need to raise money to do drill wells and that kind of activity. So when it is tougher to raise money, there's less activity."

The deadline for bids is in October, and CNRL expects a deal to be done by the end of the year.

(Carrie Tait is a Globe and Mail Energy Reporter.)

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