Total seals deal for smaller stake in Papua New Guinea bloc

MELBOURNE, March 26 Wed Mar 26, 2014 3:15am EDT

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MELBOURNE, March 26 (Reuters) - Total has agreed to buy a 40 percent stake in Papua New Guinea's largest undeveloped gas field from InterOil Corp, in a revised deal announced on Wednesday, giving the French oil giant a smaller stake than first planned.

InterOil estimated it could receive between $1.62 billion and $3.5 billion all together from Total, depending on how large a reserve of gas is found in the fields.

The final stakes in the deal, which was first announced in December, were changed to reflect the acquisition by Oil Search of a 22.8 percent interest in the Elk and Antelope fields earlier this month.

Total will make an initial payment of $401 million for its 40.1 percent stake, down from a 61.3 percent stake.

A further $138 million will be due in two instalments when a final investment decision is made for an Elk-Antelope liquefied natural gas project and a first cargo is exported. Additional payments will be due based on the volume of gas discovered in the license area.

Once the reserves are certified, the project partners will have to decide whether to build a standalone LNG project, which Total and InterOil favour, or use the Elk and Antelope gas for an expansion of ExxonMobil's PNG LNG project, likely to be Oil Search's preferred option.

"We have a strong relationship with our joint venturers, strong support from the Papua New Guinea government, and we now look forward to leading development of the LNG project," Jean-Marie Guillermou, Total's exploration and production senior vice president Asia Pacific, said in a statement.

Oil Search owns a 29 percent stake in the rival $19 billion PNG LNG project, which is due to ship its first cargo around July.

Citi analysts estimated the rival projects could save $1 billion to $2 billion by not duplicating LNG infrastructure.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry)

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