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Faroe keen to compete for North Sea oil assets

THE chief executive of Faroe Petroleum has said he remains enthusiastic for UK North Sea deals in spite of fierce competition for assets.

Graham Stewart told The Herald the company still wants to buy UK producing interests after missing out on a number of targets that it bid for last year.

Five months after he said Faroe could pay up to $200 million (£127m) for a North Sea target, Mr Stewart noted the company has $250m of undrawn credit facilities that it could use to fund the right deal.

Mr Stewart confirmed the company might draw on the war chest to take over rivals as well as buying individual assets, without giving details.

Faroe seems keen to be an active player in the surge of North Sea mergers and acquisitions activity, which is expected to intensify.

The energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie recently predicted continued strong M&A activity in the UK North Sea after the total value of deals hit a 10-year high of $10bn (£6.25bn) in 2012. Buyers included organisations from China and the Middle East as well as UK and overseas corporations.

Competition for funding has left some independents sitting on assets that they may not be able to progress, which they could decide to offload.

North Sea-focused Valiant Petroleum launched a strategic review last year and said it was open to offers.

After growing Faroe from a start-up to a company with a market capitalisation of around £310m, Mr Stewart said the outlook for some small independents was challenging.

"You need to have a lot of money in the North Sea," he said.

However, Faroe has amassed a portfolio of producing assets that generate more than enough cash to fund an active exploration programme.

The company's four principal fields include Blane in the UK North Sea and three developments in Norwegian waters.

Faroe's interest in acquiring UK producing assets partly reflects the desire to utilise around £65m tax losses it built up on activity in the country's waters.

But Mr Stewart noted the company has also been increasing its exposure to UK exploration.

The company was awarded seven licences in the UK in the latest licensing round.

It is awaiting the results from the closely watched BP-operated North Uist well west of Shetland.

Faroe has been competing aggressively for acreage in Norway, where it has the biggest portfolio of any listed UK independent.

The company was awarded eight licences off Norway last month.

Faroe traded a stake in the Maria oil discovery off Norway for interests in producing assets in 2011. The company could use similar asset sales to capitalise on its success with the drill bit.

Last week the company said it had made a significant gas condensate discovery with the Rodriguez well in the Norwegian Sea.

Mr Stewart is also excited about the exploration potential of the Barents Sea area and the waters off Iceland, in which Faroe has established early positions.

Faroe Petroleum is still involved in exploration activity off the eponymous islands, where it has yet to make a commercial discovery.

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