Back in 2007, Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) determined that it had too much oil sands on its hands. Now the firm appears to have more in the way of deepwater development prospects than it can afford to exploit. On its first-quarter conference call, the company announced that it will seek a partner to help fund its high-priced projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

I viewed Devon's oil sands divestment as an attempt to jettison some non-core acreage and increase concentration on its Jackfish project. This deepwater business is a whole different story.

Along with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), Devon's got one of the top leasehold positions in the Lower Tertiary among independents. It's one of the company's core assets, since Devon's share of four discoveries to date is estimated to contain something like 900 million barrels of resource potential.

Rather than an attempt to trim the portfolio, Devon's move more resembles Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE:CHK) joint venture initiatives with BP (NYSE:BP) in the Fayetteville shale, Plains Exploration & Production (NYSE:PXP) in the Haynesville, and StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO) in the Marcellus. We don't know exactly how Devon will structure its deals, but ideally, the company will get some kind of drilling carry, in addition to cash up front.

That said, Devon's long-term project commitments are outrunning their typical 10% to 15% share of the firm's capital budget. This year, they've devoured more like one-third of the total. And those commitments are headed higher in future years.

Based on an estimate of $45 oil and $5.50 natural gas, Devon was already planning on outspending cash flow by a billion dollars in 2009. Without a snapback in gas prices, that gap will widen further. Even after dropping more than half of its drilling rigs, the company's still got a pretty full plate in terms of capital spending. The move to bring in a partner thus strikes me as a sign that Devon's in a bit over its head in the deepwater.

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