Sinopec to buy Chesapeake Energy assets for $1.02 billion

China Petrochemical Corp., the nation’s second-largest energy company, will pay $1.02 billion to buy 50 percent of Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK)’s Mississippi Lime assets, seeking to benefit from surging U.S. crude output.

The assets in Oklahoma produced 46,000 barrels of oil a day at the end of 2012, according to an e-mailed statement released today by Beijing-based unit Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration & Production Corp. Cnooc Ltd. (883), a unit of China’s largest offshore oil producer, has bought $1.65 billion of assets from Chesapeake since 2010.

U.S. energy acquisitions may soar after Cnooc this month won approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment to buy Nexen Inc. (NXY) for $15.1 billion. Chinese companies are seeking energy assets globally to lock in supplies for the world’s fastest growing major economy and access technology to retrieve fuel trapped in rocks that has driven U.S. oil production to the highest in almost 21 years.

“While Chesapeake has many quality assets, Chinese oil companies care more about their drilling and shale-fracking technology,” Laban Yu, Hong Kong-based analyst at Jefferies Group Inc., said in a telephone interview. “The reason Chinese oil companies have gone after Chesapeake in the past year was also because they wanted to apply the technology to tap the world’s No.1 shale gas reserves in China.”

Rising Production

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (386), the listed unit of the Sinopec Group, gained 0.5 percent to HK$8.80 in Hong Kong. The shares have increased 0.2 percent this year, compared with a 0.7 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng index. Chesapeake increased 1.5 percent to $20.50 in New York trading on Feb. 22. The stock has gained 23 percent this year after dropping 25 percent in 2012.

U.S. oil output climbed 54,000 barrels a day to 7.12 million in the week ended Feb. 15, the highest level since July 1992, the Energy Information Administration, a division of the Energy Department, said Feb. 22.

Chesapeake may need to sell as much as $9 billion in assets this year after divesting about $11 billion in oil fields and pipelines in 2012 to plug a funding shortfall, Brian Gibbons, an analyst at CreditSights Inc, said last week.

The company expects to announce early this year transactions involving holdings in the Mississippi Lime formation in Oklahoma and Kansas as well as the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, Jeffrey Mobley, the Oklahoma City-based company’s vice president of investor relations, said during a presentation at a Feb. 5 conference.

Debt Load

Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer at Chesapeake, agreed on Jan. 29 to step down by April 1 from the company he co-founded 23 years ago after slumping gas prices erased profits, worsened Chesapeake’s debt load and triggered job cuts and asset sales. The company’s $13.6 billion market value is less than half its $35.6 billion peak from 2008 and a fraction of the $100 billion estimate that McClendon pegged as its true value during a March 2012 interview.

Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu said in May his company had held talks with Chesapeake and others about investing in shale assets. Fu was seen sitting in a front-row seat at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City in June 2012 watching the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Miami Heat in an NBA final. The Thunder is partly owned by McClendon.