A maverick Canadian oil man, who has made several high-profile takeover attempts, launched his most audacious offer yet yesterday, bidding for the company he left as chief executive last year.

Canadian Superior Energy Inc, a small oil and gas firm run by Greg Noval, the Calgary-based executive known for his tough-talking style, said it planned to launch a C$700 million ($452 million) all-stock bid for Canadian 88 Energy Corp. Noval Founded Canadian 88 in 1988 to explore for natural gas along the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta.

Under the unsolicited offer, Canadian Superior would swap 2.75 shares for each share of Canadian 88, which has been searching for a buyer for several months. It said the deal was worth C$4.95 a share.

Noval tried to downplay his history with Canadian 88 at a news conference yesterday, and Canadian Superior vice-president Rick Watkins said Noval was not involved in the deliberations. "Greg is not riding this mule," he said.

Canadian 88 chief executive Joseph Pritchett III said he was surprised by the bid, but would not give an opinion. "I'm in the process of getting my board together, and they will deal with this post haste, I'm sure," Pritchett said.

Canadian Superior shares closed unchanged yesterday at C$1.80 on the small-cap Canadian Venture Exchange before the offer was announced. Canadian 88 shares in Toronto closed down 13 Canadian cents at C$3.35, having ranged between C$1.90 and C$4.58 in the past 52 weeks.

In March 2000, the big U.S. gas marketer and pipeline firm Duke Energy Corp bought a fifth of struggling Canadian 88's shares, which had steadily dropped in price for about a year amid slipping gas production. As part of the deal, Noval was replaced as CEO by Duke executive Pritchett. Noval later took the helm of affiliate Canadian Superior as Canadian 88 worked to seek out a buyer.

"The stock has languished under their leadership and I think that can be corrected," Noval told reporters yesterday. In recent months, Canadian Superior has been touting its exploration acreage off the coast of Nova Scotia, seen by many in the industry as the next big natural gas producing region.

The company said it enlisted some prominent executives to sit on the merged company's board if the deal goes through, including former TransCanada PipeLines Ltd chairman Gerry Maier and Dale Blue, former CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank.

Noval, who has been at odds with analysts and the business press at times, tried for years to acquire big-league oil and gas assets, first by launching a hostile bid for Texaco Inc's Canadian unit in 1994, then making an unsuccessful offer for Amerada Hess Corp.'s properties in Canada.

He made headlines again in 1997 with a hostile bid for Morrison Petroleums, only to be forced to withdraw when regulators found he had improperly acquired Morrison stock through a third party before making the bid public.

In February, U.S. oil producer Hunt Oil Co. paid Canadian 88 C$176 million for Alberta gas producing assets. It was reported earlier this month that Noval filed a lawsuit against his former company, claiming Canadian Superior's rights of first refusal were breached in the sale.