Firm aims to support hobbled offshore drillers

Blackstone Group creates support entity as service companies face mounting sector pressures.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Feb. 12, 2016 at 6:56 AM
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NEW YORK, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. investment firm Blackstone Group said it formed a partnership to help provide financial solutions to the offshore oil and natural gas services sector.

Blackstone formed Clarion Offshore Partners to provide support for offshore drilling companies facing pressure from the market downturn. The entity is led by former top executives at offshore services provider Pride International, which was acquired by a rival in 2011.

Louis Raspino, former CEO at Pride and now chairman of Clarion, said it could partner with industry leaders struggling to work through enduring weakness in the oil economy.

"This is an opportune time in the industry for a well-capitalized and experienced team to provide creative financing and operational solutions," he said in a statement. "Balance sheets are under severe pressure, existing operators are challenged to deploy assets, and related parties throughout the value chain are also facing financial pressures."

Lower crude oil prices, off more than 70 percent from peaks above $100 per barrel in mid-2014, leave energy companies with little capital to invest in exploration and production. That's left companies that provide those services to energy companies with even tighter purse strings.

Anadarko Petroleum, which operates off the U.S. coast, posted a $1.25 billion loss for the fourth quarter last week. Year-on-year, the company said it planned to cut spending by almost 40 percent in 2015, or more than $3 billion.

Driller Transocean, meanwhile, lost out earlier this week when Murphy Oil pulled out of a rig contract for work in the Gulf of Mexico nearly 9 months early. In a further indication of the enduring downturn, Hercules Offshore said it formed a special committee to consider options for selling itself or merging with a rival.

"No decision has been made to engage in any particular transaction or transactions," the company stressed.

Hercules filed for bankruptcy in August as part of a financial restructuring effort in an era of lower crude oil prices.

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