BP doubles down on deepwater drilling

bp_oil_transocean.top.jpg By Shelley DuBois, reporter


FORTUNE -- This summer BP outlined a plan to shed $30 billion worth of assets to free up some cash to pay for the Macondo well disaster. It still needs to ink some more deals to hit that mark, but it's already started the process.

BP (BP) is getting a mandatory makeover on a budget, and its sales so far are beginning to show what the company will look like post-disaster. It seems that when BP trims fat, onshore natural gas is the first to go. And despite the fact that it's still struggling to shake off its financial aftermath from Macondo, its commitment to deepwater drilling hasn't faltered.

Here's a look at what the company has cut, what it plans to lose, and what it has said it wants to keep.

Canada, Egypt and the U.S.

Apache (APA, Fortune 500), one of the largest of the so-called independent oil producers, has been one of the major beneficiaries of BP's blunders in the gulf. The company plans to buy a total of $7 billion of assets that BP needed to sell after the spill. That adds up to a significant shift for Apache, strategy-wise. In the 2010 second-quarter earnings call, Apache CEO Steven Farris reeled off Apache's BP shopping list, then said, "If it hadn't been for the Gulf of Mexico incident, we probably -- well, I'm sure we wouldn't have been sitting here tonight."

Thursday, Apache finalized a deal to buy $3.25 billion of BP's natural gas assets in Canada. It's only one piece of the larger deal signed this summer, in which Apache also bought oil fields and gas production plants in Egypt and the U.S.

Apache plans to focus on the Canadian property to squeeze more production out of it than BP could. "These are very underworked assets," said Farris about BP's former property in the Permian Basin in Texas. "BP has not drilled an operated well in the last four years."

A major portion of BP's onshore natural gas assets were in Canada. Selling them to Apache could mean a move away from natural gas for the company. It's a move that Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts recommended in a report issued Oct. 5. As for liquid natural gas, "Over the past few years a more aggressive approach by the competition [BG, Total, Asian players] has left BP somewhat behind the curve," the report said.

Vietnam and Pakistan

BP announced this past summer that it was going to sell other natural gas assets in Asia. It told the governments of Vietnam and Pakistan that it was planning to get rid of gas fields and pipelines there, but keep its Pakistani lubricant business. This sounded like a sure thing in August, but as it turns out, new CEO Robert Dudley is backpedaling on the proposed sale and may instead turn the assets over to an affiliate company.

Colombia

BP made a joint deal with Colombian company Ecopetrol and Canadian company Talisman to sell its oil and gas assets in Colombia. The two companies said they'd pay about $2 billion for the deal. In a press release Ecopetrol CEO Javier Gutierrez said that the purchase would help boost exploration in the company and expand its natural gas business.

Smaller deals

In September, BP announced plans to sell its Malaysian plants that produce chemical products derived from petroleum, or petrochemicals. Malaysian company Petronas bought the plants for about $4 million. On Wednesday, BP and Shell agreed to sell a holding of BP and Shell Marketing Services in Zimbabwe to Shingai Mutasa, a businessman there.

BP stays deep

What BP isn't selling is any of its deepwater assets. The Gulf of Mexico is still key for BP's oil production, as is Angola, another deepwater play. Earlier this month BP also signed a deal to develop a giant natural gas field in Azerbaijan, which is going to involve deepwater drilling for gas offshore.

It looks as if BP can afford to sell plays in onshore natural gas, but despite the spill, the company will try to remain king in deepwater. To top of page

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