Exxon Grabs Reins in InterOil Gas Hunt as Rivals Bow Out of Deal

Botten: Exxon Deal Welcomed by Oil Search and Total
  • Exxon bid values Papua New Guinea gas explorer at $2.5 billion
  • Total says it won’t make a counter offer for InterOil

Exxon Mobil Corp. has a clear path to expanding its reach in Papua New Guinea after its rivals said they wouldn’t counter a $2.5 billion bid for gas explorer InterOil Corp.

Oil Search Ltd. and Total SA had offered to buy InterOil in May in a deal that valued the company at $2.2 billion. Exxon topped it with its offer July 18. Oil Search said Exxon buying InterOil will achieve the same synergies it sought with its bid. A Total spokesman said by e-mail that it won’t make a counteroffer because its original bid represented fair value. InterOil officials said they planned to release a statement later Thursday.

An Exxon deal is welcome for Oil Search because it would drive integration between Papua New Guinea’s two liquefied natural gas projects, lowering costs and making them more competitive in an over-supplied market, Oil Search Managing Director Peter Botten said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. Exxon already operates the existing PNG LNG plant, and buying InterOil would give it a portion of the proposed Papua LNG terminal. Oil Search has stakes in both.

“We work very well with Exxon Mobil as we do with Total,” Botten said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Sydney office. “The cooperation between the two projects does have the capacity to drive down the capital costs, optimize the timing, the use of resources and contributions of various fields into the next phase of growth.”

An Exxon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on commercial discussions.

All four companies are involved in the Papua New Guinea gas industry. Exxon and Oil Search run the country’s only liquefied natural gas terminal, PNG LNG. Oil Search, Total and InterOil are partners in the Elk-Antelope gas field and a second proposed terminal, Papua LNG. Exxon buying InterOil means that two and possibly three new liquefaction trains will be built in Papua New Guinea, according to Botten.

Oil Search shares in Sydney rose as much as 3.1 percent and closed up 1.1 percent to A$7.41.

Project Alignment

“We see Oil Search as the winner of this arrangement as they get the alignment without dilution,” Neil Beveridge, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said in a research report. With Exxon’s entry, the probability that two additional LNG trains or more will be sanctioned has “increased significantly.”

InterOil said Exxon had offered it a fixed price of $45 per share, which values the company at $2.5 billion, including $188 million in net debt. Exxon also included a so-called contingent-value right, offering $7.07 per share for each trillion cubic feet of likely gas reserves above 6.2 trillion found in InterOil’s Elk-Antelope fields, capped at 10 trillion cubic feet.

While gas-export projects globally are being delayed or scrapped amid a downturn in the energy industry, Papua New Guinea is seen as one of the most promising locations due to lower development costs and gas reserves that also include condensates, a type of light oil that adds extra revenue.

Elk-Antelope

The Elk-Antelope fields are 340 kilometers (211 miles) away from the proposed site of the LNG plant near the capital, Port Moresby, less than half the distance for the resources feeding the PNG LNG project, according to an InterOil presentation in January.

If construction of the separate Papua LNG project starts in 2018, it would take until 2022 before first shipments leave the terminal, according to BMI Research. Papua New Guinea exported 8.76 billion cubic meters of LNG last year, a level that should increase to more than 20 billion by 2024, BMI said in a report Wednesday.

If the companies integrate PNG LNG and Papua LNG, they could save $2 billion to $3 billion in capital costs by sharing assets and power generation, Oil Search said in a June presentation.

Lower development costs will allow the companies to offer more flexibility to potential LNG buyers, who are looking for shorter contracts in an over-supplied market, according to Botten. LNG supply and demand probably won’t come into balance until the early 2020s, he said.

“We think, especially with cooperation between the two projects in PNG, that we’re very well suited to being the lowest-cost producer feeding into that market,” said Botten.

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