UPDATE 3-Newfield expands oil-rich play with $308 mln asset buy

Tue Mar 22, 2011 11:58am EDT

* Buys assets in Utah from Harvest Natural, private co

* Deal expected to close in Q2; adds 70,000 net acres

* Harvest Natural shares up 8 pct; Newfield stock up 2.5 pct (Recasts; adds details, analyst comments)

By Krishna N Das

BANGALORE, March 22 (Reuters) - Oil and natural gas producer Newfield Exploration will raise its acreage in the oil-heavy Uinta basin of Utah by more than a third by buying assets of Harvest Natural Resources and an unnamed private company for about $308 million.

Encouraged by crude oil prices that are consistently trading above $100 a barrel, global exploration and production companies have been on the hunt for deals in shale formations across the United States.

Houston-based Newfield plans to spend nearly all of its 2011 budget of $1.7 billion to develop its oil and liquids-rich gas plays.

The Uinta deal adds 70,000 net acres to Newfield's nearly 183,000 in the basin. The bought acreage is largely undeveloped and is located near the company's largest oil asset, the Monument Butte field.

Wells Fargo Securities analyst David Tameron said, "(It) makes sense for Newfield to extend its position at one of its highest rate of return assets."

Analysts at Wells Fargo, Tudor Pickering Holt, Global Hunter Securities and Raymond James pegged the per-acre price at about $4,500.

This compares with about $13,000-$16,000 per acre that Korea National Oil will pay Anadarko Petroleum for a stake in the U.S. company's properties in the Eagle Ford Shale -- another oil-rich play.

Newfield said last month it expects the Monument Butte field to grow more than 15 percent this year and domestic oil volumes to rise by about half.

"The acreage value is likely a positive read through for Bill Barrett and Berry Petroleum's Uinta oil projects. The companies are targeting the same oil-producing formations directly west of Newfield acquired acreage ..." Tameron said.

The deal, likely to close in May, will be financed through Newfield's revolving credit facility.

Separately, Harvest Natural said the sale of all of its oil and gas assets in the Uinta Basin will fetch it $215 million in cash. The sale, effective March 1, consists of nearly 47,600 net acres.

The sale of Harvest Natural's 70 percent working interest in the Uinta properties is a part of the Venezuela-focused firm's strategic alternatives process. It plans to use the proceeds to repay debt.

"Proceeds from the transaction will allow Harvest Natural to pay down debt as well as complete its drilling programs in both Indonesia and Gabon while allowing the company to continue to evaluate strategic alternatives," said Michael Bodino, analyst at Global Hunter Securities.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch advised Houston-based Harvest Natural on the deal.

Harvest Natural shares rose 8 percent at $15.11. Newfield shares, which closed up 4 percent on Monday following the Anadarko deal, were up 2.5 percent at $77.13 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Krishna N Das; Editing by Unnikrishnan Nair, Sriraj Kalluvila)

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