Last week, Athabasca Oil Sands raised $1.32 billion in North America's biggest IPO of the year. If you didn't hear about it, that's probably because the shares listed in Toronto, not New York. This is only fitting for a firm focused on Canadian oil sands development.
AOSC picked a fine moment to IPO. The oil sands developer's public debut coincides with a run-up in oil prices that has seen futures top $86 a barrel in recent days. Crude hasn't traded this high since October 2008.
My readers met AOSC last fall, when the company sold a 60% interest in two of its oil sands projects to PetroChina (NYSE: PTR) for $1.9 billion Canadian dollars. This gentle resource grab received Canadian regulatory approval around the beginning of the year.
What makes this firm so attractive to the Chinese, and now to Canadian investors as well, is the very significant potential of its supersized oil sands projects. Net of the PetroChina sale, AOSC has 7.1 billion barrels of "contingent resources" across its 1.5 million acres of leases and permits. These are large, contiguous blocks of prime leasehold, too -- not a patchwork of claims scattered all around the Athabasca region, like Gulfport Energy's (Nasdaq: GPOR) interests. (That stock ran up huge last week following AOSC's IPO, which I think is a mistake.)
Like Suncor Energy's (NYSE: SU) nearby MacKay River project, AOSC's projects will employ steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) or other in-situ extraction methods. If you want to know why you should care about such obscure-sounding technology, check out my recent feature on SAGD star Cenovus Energy (NYSE: CVE). The bottom line: While firms like Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) will likely continue to pursue surface mining operations, in-situ is an increasingly popular avenue for oil sands development.
As with Cobalt International Energy (NYSE: CIE) -- another large oil IPO worth exploring -- Athabasca's first production lies far in the future (i.e. 2014 at the earliest). With this kind of production profile, it's not hard to imagine investor fatigue setting in at some point, especially if oil prices tumble over the next year or two. But just like Cobalt, AOSC is largely a long-dated call option on crude. A big sell-off in the shorter term could create an interesting opportunity for believers in higher future oil prices.