BP Finds Buyer For U.S. Gulf Assets

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September 11, 2012

BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) reached a deal to sell some of its Gulf of Mexico offshore oil fields to Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) for $5.55 billion, as BP continues to divest itself of assets to pay for the 2010 oil spill in the region.

BP is selling its interests in several assets: the Marlin hub–consisting of the Marlin, Dorado and King fields–Horn Mountain, and Holstein. The deal also includes BP’s stake in two nonoperated assets: ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM)-operated Diana Hoover and the Ram Powell field, which is operated by Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA, RDSA.LN) unit Shell Offshore Inc. BP had said in May it would put interests in these fields on the auction block.

Plains also said Monday it concluded a separate deal with Shell to buy its controlling stake in Holstein for $560 million.

U.K.-based BP, among the largest global oil producers, has been selling off assets to help pay for cleanup and other costs related to the April 2010 drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 people and resulted in a massive oil spill. Of about $38 billion in assets earmarked for sale, BP has so far agreed to sell about $32 billion worth, including Monday’s deal with Plains and an agreement last month to sell a Southern California refinery and related assets to Tesoro Corp. (TSO) for $2.5 billion.

Analysts said BP, which has said it expects to sell its Texas City Refinery by the end of the year, is now close to reaching its asset-sale target. Royal Bank of Canada analyst Peter Hutton said the Texas City deal is likely to be worth between $3.5 billion and $4 billion.

BP has emphasized that the Gulf asset sales aren’t a sign of retreat from the region, which BP has invested in since the 1980s and considers an important area. In June, the company acquired 43 new drilling leases there, and has said it will consolidate its Gulf operations around four large production hubs. BP plans to have eight oil rigs drilling in the Gulf by the end of 2012.

The transaction is a big bite for Plains, a Houston-based independent oil explorer and producer. The company’s market capitalization was $5.2 billion as of Friday. Plains is expected to take on debt to pay for the deal, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Plains mainly develops and produces oil and natural gas in California, Texas, Louisiana, the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico.

Founded in 2002, Plains focuses on mature oil fields with existing reserves as well as new properties that can be developed. The oil fields it is acquiring from BP are considered mature, fitting in with the company’s overall strategy.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Barclays PLC (BCS, BARC.LN) advised Plains, and were among several banks that provided financing.

In July, BP reported a steep drop in second-quarter profit as it wrote down the value of some U.S. assets and analysts said its performance continued to suffer due to the spill. The company’s overhaul of safety standards has meant major repair work at many of its offshore operations, which has raised costs and cut production.

(c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

-Cover photo (c) Shutterstock

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