* Expects 2011 oil sands output to rise about 6 pct
* To sell C$300-C$500 mln of non-core assets in 2011
* C$750 mln to be spent on Christina Lake, Foster Creek
* Expects 2011 cash flow of C$2.2 bln
* Shares down 1 pct (Adds details, analyst comment)
Dec 9 (Reuters) - Cenovus Energy Inc (CVE.TO) said on Thursday it will spend as much as C$2.4 billion ($2.4 billion) in 2011, nearly flat with 2010, with much of the money going to projects that will not add output until after the year is out.
Cenovus, Canada’s No. 2 independent oil producer, said 2011 production is expected to average about 231,000 to 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, down from an estimated 252,000 this year.
Shares in Cenovus, which is best known for its steam-driven oil sands projects in Alberta, fell 29 Canadian cents to C$31.25 on the Toronto Stock Exchange after having gained about a fifth this year.
The production lags a 255,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day outlook the company made at its investor meeting in June, said Phil Skolnick, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity.
He attributed some of that to a 30 percent drop in expected natural gas spending, as prices for the commodity remain weak. Gas production could fall 15 percent.
Meanwhile, oil sands production is expected to increase by 6 percent.
The 2011 budget includes C$2 billion of spending on oil assets and refining operations, which are part of a joint venture with ConocoPhillips (COP.N).
The company said C$750 million is earmarked for its marquee Foster Creek and Christina Lake projects in the Alberta oil sands, which are both undergoing expansions.
In total, just C$600 million of the 2011 budget will contribute directly to boosting production next year.
“Between Foster Creek and Christina Lake, we have under construction or regulatory approval for expansions totaling 308,000 barrels per day of capacity on a gross basis,” Chief Executive Brian Ferguson told analysts.
“I consider these projects to be relatively low risk as they are expanding existing operations, not starting brand-new projects.”
Foster Creek is expected to increase average production by about 2 percent in 2011 to as much as 54,000 bpd net to the company. A three-week maintenance shutdown is slated for mid-year. Christina Lake output is targeted at around 10,000 bpd, an increase of about 30 percent.
The company will spend about C$190 million on its early-stage oil sands assets such as Narrows Lake, Grand Rapids and Telephone Lake.
In June, Cenovus set a goal to produce a net 300,000 barrels a day from its oil sands projects by 2019.
“Today’s announcement is more or less in line with what I was expecting to hear -- my production (estimates) were within their guidance range. Their capital budget is little bit less than I had factored in,” said analyst Michael Dunn of FirstEnergy Capital.
Spending at its joint-venture refineries in Wood River, Illinois, and Borger, Texas, is expected to be lower this year with a major upgrade of the Wood River plant 90 percent complete, the company said.
Cenovus is expecting cash flow, a glimpse into an oil company’s ability to fund projects, of C$2.2 billion in 2011. For 2010, it expects cash flow of C$2.2 billion-C$2.4 billion.
The company plans was planning to sell C$300 mllion to C$500 million of non-core assets in 2011.
$1=$1.01 Canadian Reporting by Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore and Jeffrey Jones in Calgary; Editing by Anne Pallivathuckal, Vyas Mohan and Peter Galloway