BHP Billiton looking to unload its U.S. shale portfolio

The Australian energy giant keeps an eye on the Gulf of Mexico while working to capitalize on the emerging trends in electric vehicles.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Aug. 22, 2017 at 8:24 AM
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Aug. 22 (UPI) -- An Australian energy giant said its assets in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico were promising, but said capital restraints meant it was leaving shale behind.

The company, the largest miner in the world, reported profits for the year ending June 30 at $5.89 million, a dramatic rebound after a $6.39 billion loss for the previous period. CEO Andrew Mackenzie said free cash flow of $12.6 billion was its second-highest on record and gains from net productivity came from a "simpler portfolio."

Onshore U.S. production for the Australian energy and mining giant was expected to decline because the development of new activity won't be enough to offset natural decline from existing assets.

"We have determined that our onshore U.S. assets are non-core and we are actively pursuing options to exit these assets for value," a company statement read.

In April, BHP dismissed a push by managers at hedge fund Elliot Associates and Elliot International, which hold minor shares in the company, to split off its U.S. oil division in order to unlock tens of billions of U.S. dollars in shareholder value.

Capital geared toward exploration and production was reduced last year, though the company said its spending efforts would increase next year as its focuses on offshore opportunities. The company holds a 23.9 percent stake in the Mad Dog project in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a program controlled by British energy company BP. Production by 2022 is expected to be around 140,000 gross barrels of crude oil per day.

Tyler Broda, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said cash flow came in better than expected for the company, adding the decision to leave its U.S. shale assets behind with a good one.

"The sale is also aligned with Elliott's recent activism, which we see as a sign that BHP is willing to engage shareholders," he said in an emailed assessment of BHP's results.

In other segments, the company said earlier this month it was investing tens of millions of dollars on a nickel sulphate operation to capitalize on the momentum for electric vehicles. Batteries used in electric vehicles are made with nickel.

Identified once as a non-core asset, the company said it was shifting gears toward the production of battery minerals in a multi-million dollar overhaul.

"We see huge potential in electric vehicles," the company said.

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