BP Said to Plan Sale of Stake in Key North Sea Oil Pipeline

  • Company started talks with potential buyers for Forties link
  • Shell has begun discussions for sale of North Sea oil fields

BP Plc is considering the sale of a minority stake in the Forties pipeline, one of the most important pieces of oil infrastructure in the U.K. North Sea, people familiar with the matter said. 

The company has started talks with potential buyers, but has not initiated a formal sale process, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. BP declined to comment.

Europe’s third-biggest oil company plans to sell $3 billion to $5 billion of assets this year as it seeks to pay down debt, maintain dividends and cover the cost of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. It sold its stake in the Central Area Transmission System, or CATS, natural-gas transportation system in the U.K. North Sea last year for 324 million pounds ($473 million). Royal Dutch Shell Plc is also said to be looking to sell North Sea assets in an effort to shore up its balance sheet.

BP owns all of the Forties pipeline system, which can transport and process as many as 1 million barrels a day of oil, including liquids extracted from natural gas, from over 50 North Sea fields, according to the company’s website. The oil that flows through the system is critical in setting the price of Dated Brent, an international crude benchmark.

The pipeline was originally built to transport oil from the Forties field, which was discovered in 1970, to the Grangemouth refinery near Edinburgh. In the following decades additional discoveries were connected to the system including Buzzard, currently the nation’s largest field. BP sold the Forties field to Apache Corp. and the refinery to Ineos Group AG last decade, while retaining control of the pipeline system.

While crude’s decline has made it more difficult for companies to sell oil fields, there has been demand for infrastructure related to the deposits. Besides BP’s CATS pipeline sale last year, Total SA agreed to sell gas pipelines and a terminal in the U.K. for 585 million pounds to North Sea Midstream Partners in August.

Brent crude has dropped 56 percent since the beginning of June 2014. This has forced companies around the world to shrink and sell assets to protect their finances. BP’s gearing -- the ratio of net debt to capital -- increased to 23.6 percent at the end of the last quarter compared with 21.6 percent in December.

Rising debt is making it critical for companies to sell assets and the North Sea is a prime target. Shell, Europe’s biggest oil company, is in talks with potential buyers for some of its assets, mostly fields it got this year as part of the record $54 billion acquisition of BG Group Plc, according to people familiar with the matter. Shell has been in talks with companies including privately held chemical producer Ineos Group AG and Neptune Oil & Gas, the people said.

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