* Co declines to name South Korean partner
* CFO says receiving interest from Asian companies on various projects
* Raises capex, production forecast for the year
* Shares rise as much as 14 pct
By Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay
Jan 22 (Reuters) - Bellatrix Exploration Ltd said it will form a C$300 million ($302 million) joint venture with an unidentified South Korean company to develop its shale deposits in west-central Alberta, making it the latest Canadian oil and natural gas producer to partner an Asian firm.
Shares of the Calgary, Alberta-based company rose as much as 14 percent to a nine-month high of C$4.70 on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Bellatrix did not name its South Korean partner, but Chief Financial Officer Edward Brown told Reuters that the company “represents 80 percent of the money that Korea invests outside the country.”
“We have a lot of interest from Asian companies to partner with us on various projects,” Brown said. “This is our first step with an Asian counterparty.”
State-run Korea National Oil Corp bought Canadian oil and gas producer Harvest Energy Trust for $1.7 billion in late 2009. ()
TransCanada Corp last year partnered with Korea Gas Corp, Mitsubishi Corp and PetroChina Co Ltd to build a C$4 billion line from northeastern British Columbia to an LNG facility at the port of Kitimat.
South Korea is the world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil.
Bellatrix said on Tuesday that the South Korean partner will pay C$150 million for a 33 percent working interest in a planned 83-well program.
Bellatrix, with assets in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia’s Peace River Arch region, continues to focus on its core assets in Cardium, a light oil shale field.
The partnership prompted the Canadian company to raise its capital expenditure and production forecast for the year. Bellatrix now expects capital expenditure of between C$230 million and C$240 million, up from C$180 million.
“It (the partnership) allows us to accelerate our growth at a much quicker pace than going it alone,” CFO Brown said. “It is a great deal for the company.”
Bellatrix expects average daily production of 24,000-25,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) for the year, up from its prior forecast of about 20,000-21,000 boe/d.
“Based on the increased capex, we estimate this could add an incremental about 14-17 net BXE Cardium wells in 2013, above what we estimate were about 38 net wells on the prior program,” analyst Ryan Galloway of Casimir Capital wrote in a note.
Galloway said he expects most of drilling to occur in the second half of the year.
The agreement with the South Korean company is effective April 1, Bellatrix said.
“The company remains on track for a good 2013 with a strong balance sheet, good natural gas hedges in place and a positive growth profile,” said Paradigm Capital analyst Ken Lin, who raised his price target on the stock to C$5.75 from C$5.50.
Analyst Jeremy McCrea of Altacorp Capital said with the joint venture covering only about 12 percent of its Cardium inventory, he would not be surprised to see it meaningfully expand in size, potentially even as early as this year.
Shares of Bellatrix, which has a market value of about C$450 million, were up 10 percent at C$4.56 in afternoon trade.