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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The fate of a handful of liquefied natural gas projects planned for Canada's Pacific coast may depend on the Canadian government's willingness to spell out rules for foreign investment in the country's energy sector, according to a study released on Thursday.
Apache Corp, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Petronas, BG Group Plc and others are in the planning stages for LNG projects that would take gas from the rich shale fields of northeastern British Columbia and ship it to Asian buyers.
But the federal government's decision last month to stall the C$5.2 billion ($5.2 billion) bid by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas C$5.2 billion for Canada's Progress Energy Resources Corp could lessen the appetite of Asian buyers for Canadian LNG, energy consultants Wood Mackenzie said.
"Some potential off-takers of Canadian LNG like the idea ... because it's perceived as having low political risk, and another reason is because they see the potential for investment opportunities," said Noel Tomnay, head of global gas at the consultancy.
"If there are going to be restrictions on how they access those opportunities, if acquisitions are closed to them, then clearly that would restrict the attractiveness of those opportunities. If would-be Asian investors thought that corporate acquisitions were an avenue that was not open to them then Canadian LNG would become less attractive."
The Canadian government is looking to come up with rules governing corporate acquisitions by state-owned companies and has pushed off a decision on the Petronas bid as it considers whether to approve the $15.1 billion offer for Nexen Inc from China's CNOOC Ltd.
Exporting LNG to Asia is seen as a way to boost returns for natural-gas producers tapping the Montney, Horn River and Liard Basin shale regions of northeastern British Columbia.
Though Wood Mackenzie estimates the fields contain as much as 280 trillion cubic feet of gas, they are far from Canada's traditional U.S. export market, while growing supplies from American shale regions have cut into Canadian shipments.
Because the region lacks infrastructure, developing the resource will be expensive, requiring new pipelines and multibillion-dollar liquefaction.
Still Wood Mackenzie estimates that the cost of delivery into Asian markets for Canadian LNG would be in the range of $10 million to $12 per million British thermal units, similar to competing projects in the United States and East Africa.
($1 = $1.00 Canadian)
Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Leslie Adler