Woodside explores its options in Africa

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Woodside Petroleum, the Australian oil and gas producer part-owned by Royal Dutch Shell, on Wednesday said it was considering the future of its operations in Africa as it reported a 16 per cent rise in first-half profits.

Don Voelte, chief executive, said the company was exploring a range of options, including selling the assets, hiving them off into a separate businesses, or a public listing. Woodside has suffered oil-drilling setbacks at its operations in Mauritania. It also has interests in ventures in Libya and Algeria.

The company has a number of large projects closer to home, including its flagship Pluto LNG project off Australia’s north-west coast. Woodside has approved a A$12bn (US$9.6bn) development of Pluto, with first shipments expected in 2010.

The group reported a 16 per cent rise in opening-half profits to A$610m after producing 35m barrels of oil equivalent, a rise of 17 per cent.

Mr Voelte repeated guidance that output was likely to rise as much as 15 per cent to between 72m and 78m barrels of oil equivalent in the full year.

“The increase in profit was primarily a result of increased production and the sale of [Australian oil field] Legendre ... which outweighed negative impacts from a stronger Australian dollar and higher depreciation [charges],” Woodside said.

The group said it was evaluating options for the proposed 10 million tonnes per annum Browse LNG project, also off Australia’s north-west coast, and had acquired two exploration blocks adjacent to the Browse fields.

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