Reliance eyes gas venture in US

Reliance Industries Ltd., the owner of the world’s largest fuel-making complex, is in talks with Atlas Energy Inc. to invest in the U.S. natural-gas producer’s shale assets. Reliance is seeking a joint venture with Atlas Energy to develop the U.S. firm’s Marcellus Shale gas operations.

Independent oil and gas company Atlas is looking for a partner for its operations in the booming Marcellus Shale in the eastern United States, which could bring in $1 billion or more for the firm.

Reliance, India’s largest listed firm, is eyeing a deal in trying to gain a foothold outside India, as it attempts to break into new markets and expand its various businesses including refining, oil and gas exploration and petrochemicals.

The Marcellus Shale, which spans parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, could hold enough natural gas to satisfy U.S. demand for a decade, according to some geologists. “The sentiment is that the U.S. has a wall of gas that can be drilled at very low prices,” said Brian Lively, vice president of exploration and production research at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston.

Atlas’ core Marcellus position consists of 266,000 acres largely in southwestern Pennsylvania. Bidders for the Atlas position should include large international integrated oil and gas companies as well as domestic independent oil and gas companies. Reliance Industries would be joining British, French, Japanese and Canadian rivals in investing in U.S. reserves trapped in rocks that until five years ago were considered too hard to be worth drilling.

Reliance Industries has raised about $2 billion selling shares since September and the funds may be used for capital expenditure, Chief Financial Officer Alok Agarwal said in Jan. Reliance had outstanding debt of 700 billion rupees ($15 billion) in cash and cash equivalent of 159.6 billion rupees as of Dec. 31, Mukesh Ambani, CMD, Reliance Industries said in the AGM in January. At the other end Marcellus Shale, Chief Executive Officer Edward Cohen said on a conference call on Feb. 26, “We’ve made clear that we are very alive and receptive to the joint venture situation. We’re well into the process.”



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