(MENAFN - Arab Times) Royal Dutch Shell said on Monday it had agreed to sell stakes in a gas project in Western Australia for 1.14 billion to Kuwaiti firm as part of the oil company's drive to improve return on investment. Shell is selling an 8 percent stake in the Wheatstone and nearby Iago gas fields and a 6.4 percent stake in the related Wheatstone liquefied natural gas (LNG) project to the Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC). The move raises KUFPEC's holding in the Chevron-led LNG project, in which the state company is already a partner, to 13.4 percent. "We are making hard choices in our worldwide portfolio to improve Shell's capital efficiency," Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden, who took over two weeks ago, said in a statement.
"We are refocusing our investment to where we can add the most value with Shell's capital and technology," he said, adding that the company would remain a major player in Australia's energy industry. KUFPEC is focused on using OPEC member Kuwait's oil wealth to diversify into energy projects abroad. Wheatstone, one of the super-sized Australian LNG projects due to come on stream over the next few years, is about 25 percent complete. With some 80 percent of its future production committed to Asian buyers, the project is scheduled to cost about 29 billion. Chevron expects capital spending on it to peak this year. Shell issued a "significant" profit warning for the fourth quarter on Friday, in which it detailed across-the-board problems, less than three months after its third-quarter profits undershot analyst forecasts.
Analysts and shareholders said the company's weak results would push the world's number-three investor-controlled energy firm to keep a tighter control on costs after it said 2013 capital expenditure would peak at about 45 billion. Since van Beurden began working alongside outgoing boss Peter Voser at the start of the fourth quarter, the company has cancelled plans to build a gas-to-liquids plant in the United States, raising investor hopes of a tighter spending regime. Shell is not the only big energy company facing increasing investor pressure to hold down spending as costs rise and prospects for higher oil prices wane. At 1.14 billion, the Wheatstone disposal kicks off a year in which Shell said it would significantly step up disposals to keep cash flowing in.
Recent media reports have suggested the company's divestments could total 15 billion this year, equivalent to around 6.5 percent of its 232 billion market capitalisation. "The thing that Shell has to do is accelerate divestments and re-instill capital discipline so in that vein it's positive," Santander analyst Jason Kenney said. Analysts and bankers say another of Shell's Australian assets, its 23.1 percent stake in Australian group Woodside Petroleum - worth over 6 billion at current prices - could be put on the block. Shares in Shell traded down 1 percent at 2,153 pence at 0939 GMT, underperforming Britain's blue-chip index. Chevron has a 64.14 percent stake in Wheatstone, which is due to come on stream in 2016. The other stakeholders are Apache Corp with 13 percent, Tokyo Electric Power Co with 8 percent and Kyushu Electric Power Co with 1.46 percent. Through the acquisition, KUFPEC will add 139 million barrels of oil equivalent to its resource base, thereby meeting its strategic reserves target for the next four years.
Average production net to KUFPEC will reach an anticipated 18,350 barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2018, with first LNG production commencing in late 2016. Importantly, KUFPEC can in the future supply the LNG directly to KPC on commercial terms. Commenting on the transaction, KUFPEC's Chief Executive Officer, Sheikh Nawaf S. Al-Sabah, stated that "KUFPEC is delivering on its strategic goals of bringing value to the Kuwait oil sector through increased production that has a strategic tie-in with KPC, along with technology transfer and training opportunities to develop Kuwaiti manpower." He further stated that "the production and cash flows from the acquisition will provide stable revenue to KUFPEC for a quarter century." The Wheatstone-Iago Joint Venture comprises the Wheatstone and Iago gas fields, located offshore in Western Australia. The Wheatstone LNG Project, which is operated by Chevron, is one of Australia's largest resource projects and is currently being constructed.
The gas produced by the Wheatstone-Iago Joint Venture will be commercialized via the Wheatstone LNG Project. KUFPEC is an international oil company engaged in the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas outside the State of Kuwait. It is currently active in 14 countries with 60 projects in the international upstream sector. Also, KUFPEC is currently working towards achieving its strategy plans aiming to increase its production to 200,000 BOEPD with reserves of 650 MMBOE by year 2020.