Apache seeking buyer for Wheatstone LNG project stake


Apache seeking buyer for Wheatstone LNG project stake


HOUSTON (Bloomberg) -- Apache, the energy company that has announced $9.8 billion of asset sales in the past year, is seeking a buyer for its interests in the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas project, people familiar with the matter said.

The oil and gas producer is in early discussions with potential buyers for its holdings in Chevron's $27 billion project in Western Australia, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Macquarie Group Ltd. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are advising Houston-based Apache on the sale, they said.

In the past year, Apache has sold its Argentinian operations, deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico and a stake in its Egypt business as it seeks to reduce net debt, which stood at $8 billion at the end of March, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Its 13% stake in the Wheatstone project could be valued at about $2.5 billion, according to UBS AG.

“A number of companies across the industry are starting to pull back from some projects they previously had been pursuing with a fair bit of vigor,” John Young, a Melbourne-based analyst at Ord Minnett Ltd., said today by phone. “They could perceive they have more attractive opportunities in the U.S.”

A sale of the Wheatstone stake would reduce Apache’s capital spending commitments by $1.4 billion this year and $800 million in 2015, UBS analysts led by William Featherston wrote in a report today. Proceeds could be used to fund further share buybacks, according to the report.

Cost Overruns

The Wheatstone plant will produce 8.9 million tons of LNG a year and is due to start in 2016, according to its website. Apache also holds a 65% interest in the Julimar and Brunello offshore fields, which it operates and which will provide gas to the Wheatstone facility.

Wheatstone is among seven LNG export developments being built in Australia at a cost of about $190 billion to meet Asian demand. High construction costs and a strong Australian dollar have hurt project developers including BG Group, with the bill for Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project surging to $54 billion from an estimate of $37 billion in 2009.

Chevron owns 64% of the Wheatstone project, according to its Australian unit’s website. Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co., known as Kufpec, holds 13% while a group of Japanese companies including Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, jointly hold an 8% interest.

Chinese energy companies may be interested in buying Apache’s Wheatstone holdings, Nik Burns, a Melbourne-based analyst at UBS, said today by phone. Kufpec may also consider buying the stake, he said.

Shell Sale

Royal Dutch Shell agreed in January to sell its 6.4% stake in the Wheatstone project and an 8% stake in the Wheatstone-Iago gas fields for $1.14 billion to Kufpec. The Wheatstone facility will supply fuel to customers in Asia such as Tepco, Chubu Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co.

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