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Australia Delays Ruling on Shell-PetroChina Bid

NOVEMBER 2, 2011, 4:52 A.M. ET

By DAVID WINNING And DAVID FICKLING

SYDNEY—Australia’s foreign-investment watchdog has pushed back by up to 90 days a decision on the takeover of coal-seam-gas developer Bow Energy Ltd. by a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell PLC and PetroChina Co.

In a government notice to parliament, the Foreign Investment Review Board said it needed more time to decide whether to approve the 535 million Australian dollar (US$557 million) deal, which would enable Shell and PetroChina’s Arrow Energy venture to expand its proposed gas-export facility in Queensland state.

Such delays are unusual: Around 95% of FIRB decisions are made within a 30-day period set out in law, and so-called interim orders extending the process by 90 days were made just twice during the year ending June 2010, the latest period for which figures are available.

But Arrow said the decision was procedural, to allow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to complete its review of the deal, due Nov. 24.

“This allows FIRB to defer its decision until the ACCC has completed its review of any competition implications of the transaction,” Arrow said in an emailed statement.

Companies facing such procedural hurdles typically withdraw their FIRB applications and resubmit them later, but that would restart the 30-day clock—and so risk the timetable on the takeover deal. It calls for approval by shareholders and an Australian court in mid-to-late December, according to an announcement Monday from Bow.

Bow’s board has unanimously recommended investors vote in favor of the A$1.52-a-share (US$1.58) offer, and Shell said in September that it expected the transaction to be implemented in January.

Coal-seam gas—methane trapped far below the Earth’s surface—is one of the world’s hottest energy plays. More than A$20 billion was spent in 2008 on coal-seam-gas deals in Australia alone, by companies including Shell, ConocoPhillips and BG Group PLC of the U.K.

In August, Arrow Energy awarded preliminary engineering and design contracts for an export facility at Curtis Island, near Gladstone, producing an initial eight million metric tons of liquefied natuaral gas a year. Acquiring Bow Energy would allow the venture potentially to expand the annual output capacity of each of the facility’s two processing units, known as trains, to 4.6 million tons of LNG.

Write to David Winning at [email protected] and David Fickling at [email protected]

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