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2014-06-03 18:25:00

MARATHON OIL: $2.1 B

MARATHON OIL: $2.1 B

An oil explorer controlled by one of Norway's richest men is transforming itself into one of the country's biggest producers by paying $2.1bn for Marathon Oil's local assets.

Det Norske, half owned by Aker, an oil services company majority-owned by Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke, will increase its production 20-fold and become one of the biggest independent companies operating in the Norwegian part of the North Sea.

Lee Tillman, president and chief executive of Marathon Oil, said the sale would help his company concentrate its firepower on developing shale projects in the US that offered higher returns.

"Marathon Oil has a deep inventory across three high-quality US resource plays with expanding opportunities to further accelerate activity," he said.

Marathon first announced plans to sell its North Sea interests last December, when it said the proceeds would be used to expand rig count across its Eagle Ford, Bakken and Oklahoma Woodford shale acreage in the US.

The sale of its Norwegian interests will take total divestments to $6.2bn since it emerged as an independent exploration and production company in 2011 following the spinout of its Marathon Petroleum refining arm.

Nathan Piper, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said: "The deal reconfirms the rotations of large independent North American E&Ps out of the North Sea, an environment associated with high costs and project delays back to more predictable domestic energy opportunities which investors should reward them for."

The agreement is one of the biggest made by the buccaneering Mr Røkke, who started out as a teenager working on a fishing trawler before going on to own Wimbledon football club in the UK and Molde in Norway.

His main assets are the Aker series of companies, which includes interests in fishing and engineering as well as a big stake in Norway's leading oil services company.

Marathon had intended to sell its UK North Sea assets alongside those held in Norwegian waters. However, the company said it had not received an acceptable offer for the assets.

The agreement helps Det Norske finance its part in the biggest oil find in the North Sea in decades. Det Norske has stakes in two out of the three licences in the Johan Sverdrup field, possibly the biggest discovery in Norway in 40 years, and also is involved in the Ivar Aasen discovery that is due to start production in 2016.

Øyvind Eriksen, Aker's chief executive and a close confidant of Mr Røkke, called the agreement a "milestone" for Det Norske and added: "It transforms Det Norske into a major independent European oil and gas producer and enables the company to play an even more important role in the development of the Norwegian continental shelf."

ft.com

Tags: MARATHON, OIL, NORWAY

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