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Suncor Energy Inc. Takes a Flyer on Future Growth

Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE:SU)(NYSE:SU) has been one of the most active acquirers during the oil-market downturn. However, after spending roughly $9 billion to bolster its already world-class oil sands position, the company said that it wanted to turn its focus toward boosting its offshore portfolio. It did just that last week after it bought a 30% stake in the Rosebank project in the North Sea.

Drilling down into Rosebank

Rosebank is believed to be one of the best and largest remaining undeveloped oil resources in the U.K. North Sea. The field was initially discovered in 2004 and is estimated to contain 240 million barrels of oil equivalent resources.

Unfortunately, the project’s costs are about as large as its resource base, which is why its developers, led by global oil giant Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), put it on hold in 2013 (when oil was still in the triple digits). They did so because they wanted to improve its economics after the price tag soared past $10 billion.

Chevron and its partners are making progress getting that number down due in part to the impact the significant slump in oil prices is having on costs. In addition to that cost deflation, Chevron noted last year that “the joint venture participants have made significant progress in optimizing the Rosebank facilities and have identified changes to the scope of the facilities which we expect to deliver a reduction in development costs and a consequent improvement in project value.”

Because of that, the project is inching closer to getting the green light.

Drilling down into the deal

That is important because the project’s approval impacts what Suncor will ultimately pay for its stake in the project.

As it stands right now, Suncor is only paying $50 million for a 30% stake in the project from OMV. However, Suncor could pay an additional $165 million to OMV if the project’s co-owners make a final investment decision to move forward with construction. Because of that arrangement, Suncor is essentially buying an option on a project that might not pay off for years, if ever.

Further, if the project does get approved and Suncor elects to participate, it would be required to fund 30% of the project’s cost. Given the initial $10 billion estimate, Suncor could be on the hook for upwards of $3 billion in future capex requirements. Meanwhile, it would likely take several years to complete the project’s construction. Needless to say, Suncor is taking a very long-term view with this acquisition.

Investor takeaway

After spending billions to bulk up on its oil sands position, Suncor is taking a flyer in a bid to boost its offshore business. While it is a bet that will take years to pay off, given the sheer size of the resources base, it could be a big winner.

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Fool contributor Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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