BHP Billiton Considers Sale of UK Petroleum Operations

MELBOURNE - BHP Billiton is considering exiting its U.K. petroleum operations, including crude oil and natural gas fields and a processing plant, as part of ongoing efforts to tighten the focus of its portfolio of mining and energy assets.

The Anglo-Australian company has launched a strategic review of the business and is exploring options, include the possible sale of the assets, a spokeswoman said Wednesday in an emailed reply to questions. However, she said the process was at a very early stage and no decision to sell has been made.

BHP operates Liverpool Bay, which consists of five producing offshore gas and oil fields in the Irish Sea and the Point of Ayr onshore processing plant in north Wales, and associated infrastructure. It owns a 46.1% stake in the operation, while ENI SpA (E) owns the rest.

The Melbourne-based company also holds a 16% non-operating interest in the Bruce oil and gas field in the North Sea and operates the Keith field in which it has a 31.83% stake.

Earlier this month, BHP agreed to sell a minority interest in the planned Browse gas-export project off Western Australia to PetroChina Co. for $1.63 billion in cash. In recent months, it has also signed a deal to sell its diamonds business in northern Canada to Harry Winston Diamond Corp. for $500 million in cash, completed the sale of a 37% stake in a South African minerals sands business to partner Rio Tinto PLC for $1.7 billion and said it would sell an undeveloped uranium deposit in Australia to Cameco Corp. for $430 million.

Analysts have said the sale of assets where BHP either doesn't have a controlling interest or where the businesses lack scale and can't be significantly expanded will help support ambitious plans to spend roughly $22 billion on BHP's U.S. shale oil and gas and other businesses this financial year. 

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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