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Talisman Energy president and CEO Hal Kvisle. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Talisman Energy president and CEO Hal Kvisle. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Talisman aims to sell billions in assets Add to ...

Talisman Energy Inc. has put its troublesome Norwegian holdings on the auction block as part of a plan to jettison as much as $3-billion (U.S.) worth of assets over the next year as it hones operations into two main regions – the Americas and Southeast Asia.

The sales are aimed at furthering a strategy to concentrate money and effort in areas that hold the best opportunities for gains in production at low costs, chief executive officer Hal Kvisle said after Talisman reported a big drop in second-quarter profit.

The Calgary company, whose shares have languished as investors remain wary following years of operational and financial disappointments, will retain ownership of a joint venture operating U.K. North Sea assets and is working on an exploration prospect in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Besides the properties in the Norwegian North Sea, where an expensive production platform failed to meet Norwegian standards after years of delay, assets earmarked for sale include interests in a major oil pipeline in Colombia and shale gas reserves in British Columbia and Alberta.

In all, Talisman aims to part with $2-billion to $3-billion worth of holdings by the middle of 2014, something Mr. Kvisle acknowledged is a tall order in an industry in which the deal flow has slowed to a dribble.

Perhaps the most difficult sales will be interests in “long-dated” prospects such as the gas-rich Montney and North Duvernay shale in Western Canada; North American prices for the fuel remain weak, and a new export market for liquefied natural gas on Canada’s West Coast could still be years away, he said.

“Secondly, we have to recognize that when we do reach an agreement with somebody, these things might take longer than you expect to get the deal closed, just because people are going to be very careful about what they get into right now. It’s certainly not the top of the market – we’re in quite a restrained period,” Mr. Kvisle said in an interview.

However, Talisman has already had interest in its stake in the Ocensa oil pipeline in Colombia and the Norwegian holdings, he said.

The Ocensa sale could come this year, Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick said in a note to clients.

Had the 40,000-barrel-a-day Yme oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea started up on schedule a few years ago, Talisman may well have decided to remain in the region, Mr. Kvisle said. However, Talisman and its partners suffered a long string of delays.

In March, Talisman and the Dutch contractor that built the platform, SBM Offshore NV, agreed to stop work on the facility after it had failed to meet Norwegian standards and forced writedowns among the partners. Under the arrangement, SBM agreed to pay $470-million to end all previous agreements and arbitration procedures over the project.

“I don’t think we could sell Norway in the absence of that, so I think it was a key milestone that our folks reached,” he said.

Talisman shares closed on $11.64 (Canadian) on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, down 2.5 per cent. They are nearly flat year-to-date.

In the second quarter, Talisman’s net income was halved to $97-million (U.S.), or 9 cents a share, from the year-earlier $196-million, or 19 cents a share. Cash flow sank 34 per cent to $526-million, or 51 cents a share, from $803-million, or 78 cents a share.

Its $1.5-billion sale last year of a 49-per-cent stake in U.K. North Sea assets to China’s state-owned Sinopec was a big reason for the lower cash flow, it said.

The company said it now expects production for the year to be at the bottom end of its target range of 375,000 to 395,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, as a result of production problems in the North Sea that have cut output by 9,000 barrels a day.

It expects increased output, however, from North American plays such as the Eagle Ford in Texas and Marcellus in the U.S. Northeast, and from Southeast Asia, where it started up a new oil project called HST/HSD of Vietnam.

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