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Flurry of M&A Activity in the Gulf of Mexico

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While much of the mainstream media fixated on the slowdown in natural gas-focused shale plays and the risks of hydraulic fracturing, the upsurge of drilling activity and M&A in the Gulf of Mexico has received significantly less attention.

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Flurry of Deals

As part of an ongoing effort to shift its focus from natural gas to oil, Plains Exploration & Production (NYSE:PXP) on Sept. 10 announced that the firm had inked an agreement with BP (NYSE: BP) to acquire oil and gas properties in the Gulf of Mexico for $5.5 million.

The transaction includes a 100 percent working interest in the Marlin, Dorado and King fields; BP's 50 percent operating interest in the Holstein property; a 33.3 percent working interest in the Exxon Mobil Corp's (NYSE:XOM) Diana-Hoover field; and a 31 percent stake in Royal Dutch Shell's Ram Powell field.

In a complementary deal, Plains Exploration & Production acquired Royal Dutch Shell's 50 percent non-operated interest in the Holstein field for $565 million, giving the mid-capitalization outfit a 100 percent working interest in this property.

The assets involved in this transaction currently flow an average of 67,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, about 60,000 barrels of which are crude oil. Midstream infrastructure in the region has a nameplate capacity of 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, ensuring that takeaway constraints won't limit any upside.

To help fund the transaction and further its strategic goals, Plains Exploration & Production disclosed plans to sell $1.5 billion to $2 billion worth of non-operated, gas-producing stakes in Louisiana's Haynesville Shale and the Madden Field in Wyoming.

These divestments, coupled with the Plains Exploration & Production's major acquisition in the Gulf of Mexico, should shift the firm's sales mix to about 89 percent crude oil in 2013, compared to about 61 percent crude oil in 2012.

Management noted that these assets likely wouldn't be for sale, were it not for BP's financial needs, and opined that the fields required only redevelopment to extend their productive lives for another decade. The firm will likely seek partners to participate in exploratory drilling that's tentatively slated for 2014 and 2015.

A week after this deal was announced, EPL Oil & Gas (NYSE:EPL), a New Orleans-based independent that changed its name from Energy Partners, agreed to pay $550 million to a division of Hilcorp Energy, the third-largest privately held energy company in the US, for properties in the shallow-water Central Gulf of Mexico.

These assets include three fields that Hilcorp Energy had originally acquired from Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX): Ship Shoal Block 208, South Pass 78 and South Marsh Island 238. All these properties are located near EPL Oil & Gas' existing plays in the Gulf of Mexico.

This acquisition, the firm's fourth since 2011, involves an estimated 36 million barrels of oil equivalent in reserves and roughly 10,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in production, the latter of which is about equally split between oil and natural gas.

These assets will almost double EPL Oil & Gas' reserve base to about 74 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, while its annual output will increase to more than 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from about 11,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2011.
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