Woodside closes in on Apache deal

The oil price collapse is thought to have left Woodside Petroleum as the sole bidder for Apache's stakes in the Wheatstone and Kitimat LNG projects.

Informed sources said last night Woodside and Apache had agreed the terms of a multibillion-dollar deal that could be announced as early as this week.

Woodside would not comment.

A buy-in into Wheatstone, the $US29 billion ($35 billion) Chevron-led development near Onslow that is due to produce first LNG in 2016, and the yet-to-be-sanctioned Kitimat, in western Canada and likely to cost at least $US30 billion.

The 13 per cent Wheatstone and 50 per cent Kitimat stakes would give Woodside the much-needed growth it has been looking for since attempts to join the Leviathan consortium in the Mediterranean collapsed this year.

Although Kitimat comes with a huge capital expenditure bill, it would fast-track Woodside's own efforts in Canada, where it is trying to set up a greenfields LNG operation to cash in on North America's relatively cheap onshore gas resource.

Buying the Apache LNG project stakes would also highlight the fiscal headwinds facing Woodside's sole organic growth prospect, the Browse floating LNG development.

Woodside and its partners are supposed to be getting ready for front-end engineering and design work ahead of a final investment decision at the end of next year, though this is looking increasingly unlikely because of weak global oil and gas prices.

Sources say Woodside's strong balance sheet and cash flow generation from the Pluto LNG project have left it as the sole remaining party after other players, thought to include a Seven Group-KKR consortium as well as another group including trading giant Noble Group.

It is thought a Macquarie-led group comprising gas users Alcoa and Fortescue Metals Group remains interested in Apache's WA oil and gas business, alongside Woodside and potentially Apache's local partner, Santos.

Apache has been under pressure to offload its international assets and retreat to onshore US, though the demand from shareholders wanting greater returns was made before oil prices collapsed over the past fortnight to leave many shale-only players with thin profit margins.

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