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Looking for the Next Mega Oil Play

Looking for the Next Mega Oil Play

News came out last week that Apache is divesting a big chunk of its Egyptian oil acreage.

The company will sell one-third of its rights there to Sinopec for $3.1 billion.

Most analysts assume that Apache's divestment is driven by recent political problems in Egypt. But the company's moves elsewhere suggest the deal may be part of a larger, and more interesting, trend.

In July, Apache cut a deal to divest another of its core operating areas: the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Shelf. The major sold this acreage to privately-held Fieldwood Energy, for $3.75 billion.

The completion of two mega-sales like this within a few months of each other is striking. Apache doesn't have issues with its balance sheet. It doesn't need to sell assets to raise cash, the way other firms like BP have been doing.

Related article: Syria Barely a Blip on International Oil Market

So why the spate of property sales?

One, more-plausible explanation is that these areas just don't offer the kind of upside a major needs.

Apache produced 285 million boe in 2012. The company holds global reserves in excess of 2.8 billion barrels. Where do you go to find opportunities that move the dial on those kind of numbers?

That will be the question facing the company, as it considers how to deploy the nearly $7 billion it will receive from its recent property sales. It's not clear what the answer might be.

Some majors have looked to big unconventional plays like the Canadian oil sands, or U.S. oil shales (although the latter seems to have fizzled of late). Others have focused on high-impact offshore drilling in Brazil or the deep-water Gulf of Mexico--taking big, expensive shots at big, valuable pools.

Related article: Tight Global Oil Supplies Turn Syria into an International Problem

Another option for Apache might be to sit on cash and wait for new opportunities to develop. Mexico may finally open its petroleum sector to foreign investment soon. Representing a shot at one of the world's last established, under-developed oil and gas provinces.

Major new oil plays also appear to be developing in places like East Africa. You can bet majors are watching closely--and having cash on hand to make buy-outs here once plays are proved up might make sense.

The only clear thing is: the next big thing is not clear. Coming moves by companies like Apache may tell us a lot about what the industry is thinking on this front.

Here's to thinking outside the basin,

By. Dave Forest




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