CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc, which is facing opposition from native groups to its planned oil pipeline across the Rockies, said on Wednesday it is eyeing a return to international acquisitions.
Enbridge, after reporting a 15 percent jump in first-quarter profit, said it seeks overseas assets after selling its last foreign holding, a Spanish pipeline company, three years ago to fund North American expansion.
“We’re looking in South America,” Chief Executive Pat Daniel said. “There are some good opportunities as a result of new developments in Colombia. ... We’ve also been looking at the market from the perspective of energy moving into China, India, and other developing countries.”
The company, whose shares dropped 1.2 percent on Wednesday, is also looking at natural gas pipelines to gas liquefaction facilities, including projects in Australia designed to serve the expanding Asian market.
Enbridge is pushing forward to get regulatory approval for its C$5.5 billion ($5.7 billion) Northern Gateway project, which would take oil from the Alberta tar sands to a tanker port on British Columbia’s coast, where Canadian oil could be shipped to Asian markets for the first time.
Facing significant opposition from aboriginal communities along the planned route, Daniel said he expects a regulatory decision on the pipeline in early 2013. The company has offered native groups a 10 percent stake in the line and 1 percent of pretax earnings if they agree to the project.
The Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of native groups whose lands make up a quarter of the planned route, said there are no conditions under which they will allow it, especially following recent pipeline ruptures in Michigan, North Dakota and Alberta that have raised questions about safety.
“Our opposition is not a bargaining position. Enbridge promises and their money are no good to us,” Jackie Thomas, chief of the Saik‘uz First Nation, told reporters following a meeting with the company’s executives and board of directors.
“We’ve seen it before. History is full of bad deals, often made by indigenous people who felt they had no other choice. We have a choice,” Thomas said before she and about 40 of her supporters staged a noisy march through downtown Calgary.
Daniel has said Gateway is an important economic project or Canada, and praised the newly reelected government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for refusing to limit coastal tanker traffic, another sore spot for many natives.
The company’s lines carry the bulk of Canada’s oil exports to the United States, but Enbridge is looking to broaden its reach as rising output from Alberta’s oil sands threatens to saturate the U.S. Midwest market.
It is mulling construction of the Monarch project, which would carry as much as 350,000 barrels a day from Cushing to the Gulf of Mexico refining hub. That is one of three major proposals aimed at siphoning oil from Cushing, where brimming supplies are depressing North American oil prices.
Daniel said Monarch may succeed despite rival plans backed by TransCanada Corp and a joint venture formed by Enterprise Product Partners and Energy Transfer Partners LP, though Enbridge’s plan doesn’t yet have any backing from customers.
“We are in a renewed series of discussions on it right now,” Daniel said. “The Enterprise-Energy Transfer proposal, of course, is out there, and at this point, I‘m not aware of significant committed volume to that.”
The company reported net income of C$393 million, or C$1.04 a share, for the first quarter, up from C$342 million, or 92 Canadian cents, in the year-before quarter.
Adjusted profit, which excludes most one-time items, rose 5 percent to C$334 million, or 89 Canadian cents a share, from C$318 million, or 86 Canadian cents.
Analysts, on average, expected the company to report an adjusted profit of 87 Canadian cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company said it remains on track to meet its full year adjusted earnings forecast of C$2.75 to C$2.95 a share.
Enbridge shares were 75 Canadian cents lower at C$60.20 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones and Euan Rocha; editing by Frank McGurty