August 7, 2014 / 4:30 PM / 3 years ago

Exclusive: Freeport-McMoRan mulls $5 billion sale of California oil assets - sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Freeport-McMoRan Inc has contacted potential buyers about selling its onshore oil wells in California, which could fetch as much as $5 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

The Phoenix-based natural resources company, which owns mines and oil wells around the world, has been actively pursuing asset sales in order to reduce debt, which totals more than $20 billion.

Freeport is in the early stages of approaching prospective buyers, which could include other oil companies as well as private equity firms, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

A representative for Freeport declined to comment.

Freeport has oil-producing wells in the Los Angeles Basin, San Joaquin Basin and the Arroyo Grande Field in San Luis Obispo County. It also owns oil rigs off the California coast.

Freeport Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson said in July that the company was pursuing asset sales in an effort to reduce debt to around $12 billion by the end of 2016.

The company said it was aiming to sell about $4 billion or $5 billion worth of onshore assets but did not say which assets it planned to divest.

In 2013 Freeport-McMoRan purchased oil and gas company, Plains Exploration and Production Co, in a $16.3 billion stock and cash transaction which included the assumption of $9.7 billion of Plains' debt.

Following the acquisition, the merged company's consolidated interest expense jumped to $692 million in 2013 from $267 million in 2012 according to a recent annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In May, Freeport sold $3.1 billion of oil and gas assets located in the Eagle Ford shale basin to Encana Oil & Gas Inc, a unit of Encana Corp. According to recent media reports Freeport may also look to monetize its Candelaria copper mine in Chile.

Reporting by Mike Stone and Greg Roumeliotis; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker

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