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WPX's Apco Sale Called Positive for Onshore Growth

WPX Energy Inc. should be able to put more muscle into its western onshore prospects after it receives an expected $294 million following a merger of international subsidiary Apco Oil and Gas International and privately held Pluspetrol Resources Corp., analysts said Friday.

Tulsa-based operator WPX has controlling interests in Apco and other assets in northwestern Argentina that together comprised 4% of second quarter production volumes and 3% of 2013 year-end proved reserves. The merger was announced on Friday.

"A series of significant transactions this year are shaping a transformed and more focused WPX,” said CEO Rick Muncrief. "We are moving value forward, monetizing noncore assets and simplifying our business scope. All of these actions are clearing the runway for our long-term plans."

The two-year-old Williams offshoot, a natural gas-weighted producer, had been struggling for direction until Muncrief took over this year. Since the start of the year, WPX has sold off about $355 million worth of stakes in some of its mature gas wells that were drilled prior to 2009.

In August, it pulled off two big deals. Wyoming coalbed methane properties were swapped for a bigger position in an oily acreage position of the San Juan Basin (see Shale Daily, Aug. 20).  And it took on a partner to accelerate drilling in the Piceance Basin's Trail Ridge field (see Shale Daily, Aug. 27). Selling off the international assets was on the checklist, and rumored still to be sold or monetized are Marcellus Shale properties.

"We expect to execute," said Muncrief. "We have a bias for action and we're going to keep taking a pro-active approach to value creation."

Apco's board unanimously approved the merger agreement with Pluspetrol, subject to shareholder approval. WPX also has executed a power of attorney to vote in favor of the merger.

Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) analysts said in a note Friday the sale is a positive, in line with company commentary and their assumptions. Divesting noncore assets, particularly international properties, "will likely be rewarded."

WPX is planning an investor strategy update on Thursday (Oct. 9), when "a slew of operational updates and game plan going forward" is likely, said analysts. "On the acquisition front, WPX should continue to grow its San Juan position given its contention for highest rate of return asset...

"Obviously there's still plenty of work to do but the company may be able to expand toward 100,000 net assets in the play, which could lead to an accelerated drilling program of four-five rigs in 2015." TPH also expects to hear about Bakken Shale upsized fractures, given early data showing gains of 33-60% in initial production rates using 25% more proppant.

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