UPDATE 3-Freeport to buy Apache's Gulf of Mexico assets after shale sale

Thu May 8, 2014 3:44pm EDT

(Updates share price, adds Apache conference call commentary)

By Swetha Gopinath

May 8 (Reuters) - Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc said on Thursday it would buy Apache Corp's deepwater oil and gas projects in the Gulf of Mexico for $1.4 billion, a day after announcing it would shed $3.1 billion in Eagle Ford shale assets in Texas.

Mining giant Freeport said the Eagle Ford asset sale will fund the purchase of interests in two development projects and 11 deepwater exploration blocks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, Apache, known for its experience using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to unlock oil and gas from rock, has been selling assets overseas and in the Gulf to focus on lucrative shale fields in North America.

A 21 percent rise in liquids production from onshore fields helped Apache post a better-than-expected first-quarter profit on Thursday.

Apache, like Occidental Petroleum Corp and Hess Corp , has been boosting production in North American shale where growth is seen as more predictable.

Freeport, a major copper producer, said on Wednesday it was selling some Eagle Ford assets to Encana Corp, Canada's top natural gas company, as part of a plan to raise as much as $4 billion.

Freeport is looking to reduce its $20.9 debt load, which ballooned after it surprised the market in late 2012 with a $9 billion purchase of both Plains Exploration & Production Co and McMoRan Exploration Co.

The assets being acquired have 55 million oil-equivalent barrels in estimated proved, probable and possible reserves.

Apache and Freeport shares were little changed in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

FASTER CYCLES

Apache said it would focus more on exploration opportunities in water depths less than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in the Gulf of Mexico, while looking for joint venture options for its other deepwater fields.

"Discoveries on the shelf have quicker cycle times, require less capital, and provide more options to bring oil and gas to market," said Thomas E. Voytovich, Apache's chief operating officer for offshore and international operations.

Apache, which has sold its properties in Canada and Argentina, is also aiming to sell a part of its 50 percent stake in the Kitimat liquefied natural gas export project in British Columbia.

On a conference call with investors, Apache Chief Executive Officer Steve Farris said the company has also cut its expected capital expenditure for Kitimat this year to $600 million from $1 billion.

APACHE PROFIT TOPS ESTIMATES

Apache's first-quarter adjusted profit was $1.78 per share, above the average analyst estimate of $1.62, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But worldwide net daily production of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids fell 18 percent on the year to average 640,000 barrels of oil equivalent.

Based on good well data, Apache plans to double the number of rigs running in the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas to eight by midyear. It may also reallocate capital to that area and the Permian Basin.

Revenue fell 7 percent to $3.67 billion, but beat the average analyst estimate of $3.56 billion. (Reporting by Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore and Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by Terry Wade, Marguerita Choy and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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