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More Private Equity Buying In This Unloved Oil Play

I've called it the "asset shuffle". A changing of the guard in one of the most storied oil and gas plays in America.

That's the shallow-water Gulf of Mexico Shelf. Where this week we got news of another major property portfolio changing hands.

American independent producer Stone Energy said it will sell a package of GOM acreage to Talos Energy Offshore. The pricetag being a not-insignificant $200 million. Talos will also assume $117 million in future liabilities on the properties.

The interesting thing about the deal is the identity of the buyer. Talos Energy being a newly-created joint venture between two of the biggest names in energy private equity: Riverstone Holdings and Apollo Global Management.

And this isn't the first deal in the shallow-water Gulf for these players. Riverstone is also the financial backer of Fieldwood Energy--a private producer that has spent $4.5 billion over the last year buying up acreage on the Shelf, first from major Apache and most recently from SandRidge Energy.

This week's deal is thus just one more indication that big money is betting on shallow-water in a major way. An intriguing observation, given the relatively short shrift the play is getting from almost everyone else.

Most observers in the petroleum space consider the Shelf a declining commodity. Where conventional drilling has largely run its course over the last five decades--and big finds will be scarce going forward. Thus why firms like this week's seller Stone Energy are exiting, to focus on "high-impact" onshore shale.

But major investors like Riverstone are seeing something completely different. An opportunity to get into a proven and prolific play at attractive prices. And one that may offer more upside than a lot of analysts believe--through the application of advanced techniques like horizontal drilling to recover millions of barrels in bypassed pay.

Such drilling is now proving (quietly) to be very successful here. Potentially meaning we could see positive news over the coming months and years from the big acreage packages today changing hands.

Here's to going where others fear to tread,

By Dave Forest




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