Melbourne — BHP Billiton is facing pressure from two activist shareholders over its $20bn splurge on US shale oil and gas fields, but may resist calls to dump the business just as oil prices are sliding. Investors grumble that while BHP Billiton is a good operator in deepwater oil and gas, its shale business, first acquired in 2011, has been a capital drain and shareholders would be better off with a sale. But now may not be the right time. BHP says it sees petroleum as a core business, including most of the shale operations. "The risk is doing it for the wrong reasons — because people are telling you do it — and getting out quickly. We’re at $40 oil. It’s not necessarily the greatest time to be contemplating that," said Brenton Saunders, an analyst at BT Investment Management, which owns BHP shares. Australian boutique manager Tribeca Partners estimated BHP could fetch $10bn for its shale assets, based on recent deals done in the Permian and Eagle Ford shale regions that implied pr...

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