The Danish shipping conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk is selling its oil division, mainly comprising assets in the North Sea, to French giant Total for $4.95bn.
Total will leapfrog BP to become the second largest offshore oil producer in the North Sea, after China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), following the deal.
The takeover is the latest example of consolidation in the North Sea and comes as the industry continues to grapple with the prolonged weakness in crude prices that began three years ago.
Other recent deals have seen Shell offload its North Sea business to Chrysaor, a private equity backed company, while May saw Engie, the French utlity giant that used to be called Gaz de France, sell its exploration and production assets – most of which are in the North Sea – to Neptune, which is led by Sam Laidlaw, the former Centrica chief executive.
Then, last month, Centrica, the owner of British Gas, pooled its North Sea assets wih a German partner.
Today’s acquisition is thought to be the biggest oil deal by Total since, under its old name of TotalFina, it acquired Elf Aquitaine, its French rival, for £33.7bn in 2000.
It is expected to boost its production by 160,000 barrels per day in 2018 as well as significantly bolstering its reserves to the tune of 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent – four-fifths of which will be in the North Sea.
Patrick Pouyanne, chairman and chief executive of Total, said: “This transaction delivers an exceptional opportunity for Total to acquire a company with high quality assets which are an excellent fit with many of Total’s core regions.
“The combination of Maersk Oil’s northwestern Europe businesses with our existing portfolio will position Total as the second operator in the North Sea with strong production profiles in the UK, Norway and Denmark, thus increasing exposure to conventional assets in OECD countries.”
Among the assets Total is buying include a 49.99% stake in the Culzean gas field, around 145 miles to the east of Aberdeen, in which BP has a 32% stake.
The field, one of the largest gas fields discovered in the North Sea for more than a decade, is due to begin production in 2019 and is expected to meet about 5% of Britain’s entire gas demand.
The French company’s existing UK assets include natural gas production in three major hubs – Alwyn/Dunbar in the northern North Sea, Elgin/Franklin in the central Graban area of the North Sea and Laggan/Tormore, in the fast-growing west of Shetland area.
Maersk is looking to sell off peripheral assets as it seeks to concentrate on its container shipping business – the largest in the world.
Under the deal, in which Total will also take on some $2.5bn worth of debt, the French company is paying in shares and will acquire a 3.75% stake in Maersk. Total will also take on some $4.9bn worth of decommissioning liabilities.