CALGARY – Shell Canada Ltd. executives pushed back against suggestions it was no longer committed to the country, after striking deals to sell off $7.25 billion-worth of oilsands interests to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

“We’re continuing to invest in Shell Canada, we have a very robust business in terms of our shales,” Shell Canada president Michael Crothers said when asked if the company would sell other assets in Canada.

“We’re a very strong player in the scene and we’ll continue to be,” Crothers said during a conference call.

Shell announced it would both sell off its Albian oilsands project and other oilsands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. for $8.5 billion Thursday, but also team up with CNRL to buy Marathan Oil Corp.’s stake in Albian for $2.5 billion.

The net effect for Shell will be the company’s divestiture of most of its oilsands business. It’s stake in the Albian mining and upgrading project will shrink from 60 per cent to 10 per cent, and it will divest all of its developed and planned thermal oilsands projects.

Roughly 3,000 Shell employees working in the company’s oilsands division will join CNRL, Crothers said, though some head office and technical staff could face layoffs. Those at risk will be allowed to apply for other positions within Shell.

Shell on Thursday also amended its pay policy to better reflect incentives to control emissions. Cutting greenhouse gases, including both carbon dioxide and methane, from its refineries, chemical plants and burning of natural gas at its fields, will make up 10 per cent of executives’ bonuses. This 10 per cent weighting was split between energy intensity, controlling oil spills and water use last year, according to the company’s annual report.

He said the company was still committed to its refinery in Edmonton, its natural gas assets in B.C. and Alberta, its proposed LNG project on the West Coast and its network of retail gasoline stations even though the oilsands business “was no longer a strategic fit for Shell.”

Royal Dutch Shell plc, the parent company, has been refocusing its portfolio since its US$53-billion merger with BG Group plc closed last year. The company announced it would shift its focus to shale oil and gas plays and renewables over the long run and, in the short term, divest US$30 billion worth of assets.

Thursday’s deal with CNRL will result in a net payment of $7.25 billion for Shell, which Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, said in a release would “make a meaningful contribution to Shell’s $30 billion divestment program.”

“You’ll recall that in 2016, after the BG acquisition, we shifted our oilsands business from a future opportunity to a cash engine and did not have plans to significantly grow the business,” Crothers said.

Shell will retain some exposure to the oilsands both through its stake in the Albian project and because CNRL is partially funding the deal with its own shares. Shell will own 9 per cent of CNRL when the deal closes.

“I wouldn’t see it as an exit of leaving the Canadian scene, it’s more of an opportunity for both Shell and Canadian Natural to leverage their expertise,” CNRL president Steve Laut said.

Financial Post, with file from Bloomberg News

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