UPDATE 1-Apache selling Argentina operations to YPF for $800 mln

Wed Feb 12, 2014 5:38pm EST

HOUSTON/BUENOS AIRES Feb 12 (Reuters) - U.S. oil and gas company Apache Corp on Wednesday said it sold all of its operations in Argentina to state-controlled energy company YPF for $800 million cash, part of a plan to shed less profitable properties.

Apache, which also has oil and gas operations in Egypt, Australia and the North Sea, announced plans in May to sell assets to cut debt and shore up its balance sheet and share price through buybacks.

So far in the last two quarters, the Houston company said it has collected $7 billion in cash from asset sales that included its shallow Gulf of Mexico holdings.

Reuters reported in November that the YPF deal, which is expected to close in 30 days, was being negotiated.

The government of President Cristina Fernandez, who has at times rattled investors, nationalized YPF in 2012 by seizing Repsol of Spain's majority stake in the company.

Apache has stakes in about 25 fields in Argentina, including the giant Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field. Other global oil companies with rights to the Vaca Muerta include Chevron Corp .

The formation, in the southern Patagonia region, has 661 billion barrels of oil and 1,181 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources, according to YPF.

At the end of 2013, Apache had estimated reserves in the country of approximately 540 billion cubic feet of natural gas equivalent. Last year, Apache's production from Argentina averaged 256 million cubic feet of gas equivalent per day.

Assets in Argentina were responsible for around 6 percent of the company's production in 2012 and 3 percent of its proved reserves. The company is due to report fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday.

YPF paid a $50 million deposit on the deal, which also includes the assumption of $52 million in back debt.

A U.S. Department of Energy report has shown Argentina holds 802 trillion cubic feet of commercially viable natural gas resources trapped in shale rock and 27 billion barrels of oil, the bulk of it located in Vaca Muerta.

That would make Argentina the second largest holder of shale gas reserves after China and No. 4 in shale oil.

Argentina is counting on Vaca Muerta to recover the energy self-sufficiency it lost a decade ago. The government has had to spend millions of scarce dollars importing energy, eroding its trade surplus.

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