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By Neanda Salvaterra
Total SA's deal to buy Anadarko Petroleum Corp.'s assets in Africa cements the French oil major's position as the world's second-largest provider of liquefied natural gas while pushing its business deeper into dangerous parts of the world.
Total said earlier this week that it agreed to buy Anadarko's African assets for $8.8 billion in a transaction that would help Occidental Petroleum Corp. finance its takeover of the Texas-based oil producer. The deal was a key part of Occidental's victory over Chevron Corp. as the companies vied to buy Anadarko and its coveted U.S. shale holdings.
If the sale goes through, Total will inherit projects across Algeria, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa containing 1.2 billion barrels of oil-equivalent of proved and probable reserves, of which 70% is natural gas. The assets help Total gain ground on Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the market leader in natural gas, and brings it closer to its stated goal of becoming a cleaner company with a portfolio that contains more natural gas than crude.
The Paris-based oil firm has completed a series of deals in recent years, including the purchase of French utility Engie SA's liquefied natural-gas business in 2017. Before the Anadarko deal, Total had about 10% of the liquefied natural-gas market, second to Royal Dutch Shell, which holds about 20%, analysts said.
Total said the deal should be cash-flow positive from 2020, even if benchmark oil prices fall below $50 a barrel, and the assets should generate more than $1 billion a year in free cash flow from 2025.
"Natural gas is at the heart of Total's strategy," Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said at a gas conference in Shanghai last month. "We want to be integrated along the gas value chain to take full advantage of this growing energy source and discover new [liquefied natural gas] outlets."
Total has said it wants its portfolio to comprise 60% gas holdings by 2035, up from roughly 50% in 2018.
The company and other oil giants are moving into natural gas as oil consumption is expected to rise by 0.5% a year between now and 2040, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, and some forecasters say demand could stop growing altogether within the next decade. As buyers pivot toward cleaner fuels, global demand for natural gas is expected to rise by 1.6% annually from 2016 to 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
Natural-gas projects, though, tend to deliver lower returns than oil projects. The weighted average internal rate of return for liquefied natural-gas projects in the pipeline is about 13%, compared with 20% for deep-water projects and 51% for unconventional oil developments like shale, according to Wood Mackenzie.
Historically, Total has shown a higher tolerance than its peers for doing business in dangerous places. Still, taking over Anadarko's assets in Africa presents challenges for the company.
In a series of raids in February, insurgents in Mozambique attacked an Anadarko convoy in an area near the company's natural-gas development. The company placed its project-construction site on lockdown, and one Anadarko contractor was killed in the raids.
Total has joined with Algeria's government on oil-and-gas projects since the 1950s, but recent political turmoil in the country -- Africa's largest producer of natural gas -- delayed the progress of some new gas agreements, including deals with Anadarko and Exxon Mobil Corp.
Anadarko's Mozambique assets would give Total a big boost in the gas business. The region is home to one of the world's largest natural-gas deposits, just ahead of Egypt's giant Zohr offshore field.
Anadarko has been developing a liquefied natural-gas project off Mozambique's coast, which was expected to start producing in 2024. Total said it would inherit 26.5% participating interest and operator status in the Mozambique project, which represents 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent of long-term natural-gas resources.
"This Mozambique asset will be producing for decades, that positions Total in LNG into the middle of the century," said Stuart Joyner, an energy specialist at the research firm Redburn Partners.
Total's deal occurs as the major oil companies are under increasing pressure from policy makers and activist investors to comply with the 2015 Paris climate accord and lower global carbon emissions from fossil fuels, which have been linked to rising global temperatures.
A group of more than 4,500 shareholders working under the auspices of the Netherlands-based group Follow This have been pushing Royal Dutch Shell, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Equinor ASA to set and publish emissions targets that are aligned with the goals of the climate agreement.
Total so far hasn't been presented with a shareholder resolution to lower its carbon footprint, but the company is trying to get ahead of the curve, analysts say.
"This is all part of [Total's] broader strategic aim to shift towards a low carbon energy future," said Valentina Kretzschmar, a director at Wood Mackenzie.
Write to Neanda Salvaterra at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 11, 2019 08:14 ET (12:14 GMT)
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