Following its megamerger with Amoco back in the late 1990s, BP (NYSE:BP) undertook a $10 billion asset sale, much like Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) is said to be considering at the moment. In that process, BP unloaded its stake in Alberta's oil sands to Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE:CNQ) for $716 million.

Former BP chief Lord Browne had no taste for the tar sands, but his successor is apparently a big fan. Tony Hayward first brought BP back to Athabasca through a poetic partnership with Husky Energy in 2007. That joint venture is now moving full-steam ahead with its in situ Sunrise project, at a Phase I cost of $2.4 billion. Now, BP is said to be in talks to acquire a majority stake in privately held Value Creation Inc. (VCI) for around $1.2 billion.

Talk about seller's remorse!

This developing situation -- in which India's Reliance Industries has placed a significantly higher, but apparently less welcome, bid -- is different from the one in which PetroChina (NYSE:PTR) entered a joint venture with another private company, Athabasca Oil Sands, last year. VCI's finances are in disarray. Subsidiary BA Energy, which was building one of the half-dozen ill-fated bitumen upgraders in the Edmonton area when the financial crisis hit, went bankrupt over a year ago. VCI is now said to be on the doorstep of receivership.

One thing that VCI's Terre de Grace project has in common with AOSC's projects is size. As discussed in my look at Gulfport Energy's (NASDAQ:GPOR) oil sands assets, big contiguous oil sands acreage blocks command a strong premium. Terre de Grace's first phase, which covers 15% of the block, has an estimated 2.5 billion to 2.8 billion barrels in place. The company has spoken about ramping up the 80,000 barrels-per-day project up to a potential 320,000 bpd in ultimate bitumen production, making this a very tasty target.

Given the level of financial distress involved, I have to say that $1.2 billion for a controlling stake hardly seems like a knockdown purchase price. It's possible that BP has recognized potential well beyond VCI's limited public disclosures, however. We'll learn a lot more about the assets involved if BP does indeed go through with the deal.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.