Helix to sell oil & gas assets

Helix Energy Solutions Group is selling its oil and gas subsidiary to the privately held Houston firm Talos Energy, as part of a plan to focus on well intervention and robotics services.

The $610 million deal to sell the unit, known as Energy Resource Technology GOM, would divest Helix of all of its upstream holdings, including its Wang exploration well now being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the terms of the deal, the final purchase price could range from $600 million to $700 million, depending on whether that well meets expectations. Proceeds from the transaction, expected to close in the first quarter of 2013 would be used to repay debt.

Helix’s move follows the firm’s October decision to sell three pipeline installation vessels and other equipment to Coastal Trade Ltd. in a deal valued at $252.8 million.

Both decisions are designed to pare debt and free the Houston-based company to focus on the robotics and well-intervention services it now markets to other oil companies working offshore.

“With our aspirations to grow the service side of the business . . . the pace of that growth would be directly impacted by the balance sheet,” said CEO Owen Kratz. “If we wait and fund the growth out of oil and gas, it’s probably at a slower pace.”

Under Helix’s Canyon Offshore division, the company deploys remote-operated vehicles to conduct underwater inspections, support search and recovery missions and perform construction work. Kratz said he was aiming to spend $50 million to $60 million annually in robotics to grow that business _ with annual purchases of six remote-operated vehicles, a trencher and other equipment.

Helix’s well-intervention unit assists offshore operators in decommissioning equipment on the outer continental shelf and access wells without using rigs. Kratz said that with new ships and at least one other being built, the company has doubled the size of its fleet, with “ambitions for two additional vessels.”

Helix also is providing one of the only two major oil spill containment systems now widely available to companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The systems, which are meant to rein in runaway subsea wells, are required for deep-water exploration, under mandates imposed after the 2010 oil spill.

The Helix transaction, which was advised by Jefferies & Company Inc., has an effective date of December 1, 2012 and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2013, subject to customary closing conditions.

The deal follows several recent moves to sell off pure Gulf of Mexico oil and gas plays.

The mining company Freeport-McMoRan moved into the oil and gas business on Dec. 6, when it announced plans to buy Plains Exploration and Production Co., right after the firm picked up deep-water assets from BP.

Helix stock closed at $18.57, down 2.01 percent, following the announcement.