In a bid for more U.S. oil production, Exxon Mobil Corp. agreed to buy Denbury Resources Inc.'s assets in the bountiful Bakken Shale for $1.6 billion in cash and interests in two oilfields.
The deal gives Exxon 50% more acreage in the Bakken Shale, an emerging oilfield that this year helped make North Dakota the second-largest oil producing state in the country, after Texas. It also gives Exxon, the country's largest natural gas producer, the opportunity to place more chips in unconventional oil; the company has been criticized for betting too much on natural gas, which is much less profitable than oil amid the natural gas market glut unleashed by hydraulic fracturing.
"It is no surprise" that Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, continues to "attempt to scale up its presence in tight oil and liquids rich unconventional plays," said analysts with Simmons & Co. in a research note. The analysts added that after the purchase the Bakken will become Exxon's largest unconventional oil-rich play after Canada's oil sands.
The agreement comes amid increased interest by international oil companies, which for years have struggled to grow, in so-called tight oil, which can be freed from shale rock formations with hydraulic fracturing technology. Production in these tight oil fields can be ramped up quickly when enough capital is invested--a perfect fit for big oil companies with deep pockets and a mandate to extract more oil. Last week Royal Dutch Shell Plc bought unconventional oil assets from Chesapeake Energy Corp. for $1.94 billion.
Exxon is buying 196,000 net acres of land in North Dakota and Montana, the entirety of Denbury's assets in the Bakken, and is giving Denbury in return its interests in the Hartzog Draw field in Wyoming and the Webster field in Texas, plus the cash. Denbury shares jumped more than 8% in early morning trading after the deal was announced, but traded at $17.30, up 3.47%, mid-morning. Exxon shares were up 0.43% at $90.96.
The assets Exxon is acquiring from Denbury are expected to produce 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent in the second half of 2012. The net production from the interests Exxon is transferring to Denbury amounts to 3,600 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Denbury said it also agreed in principle to either purchase an interest in the carbon dioxide reserves in Exxon Mobil's LaBarge Field in southwestern Wyoming or to purchase incremental carbon dioxide from that field. Carbon dioxide is often used by oil companies to increase the amount of oil they can get from aging fields, a technique known as enhanced oil recovery.
The amount of cash Denbury receives will be reduced with the purchase of an interest in carbon dioxide reserves. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter. For Denbury, the Bakken was "not a core focus," said Jason Wangler, an analyst with Wunderlich Securities, Inc. Now it can focus on its specialty, which is enhanced oil recovery, Mr. Wangler added.
Denbury plans to use the cash proceeds to purchase additional oil fields in the Gulf Coast or Rocky Mountain regions, for capital expenditures and to repay debt.
Denbury also plans to resume its stock repurchase program under which about $305 million of the $500 million authorized in October 2011 remains.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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