Australian company opens bid for New Orleans petroleum producer

Australian company opens bid for New Orleans petroleum producer

Australian petroleum producer Woodside Exploration Ltd. formally opened its $880 million bid Thursday to take over New Orleans-based Energy Partners Ltd., which already is planning to merge with another Louisiana oil and gas company.

In an unsolicited offer, Woodside offered $23 for each outstanding share of EPL. The deal is contingent upon the scuttling of EPL’s pending $1.4 billion acquisition of Lafayette-based Stone Energy Corp.

Woodside’s price could rise, based on the outcome of a suit Woodside has filed in Delaware.

Woodside said that if either of two termination fees tied to the EPL-Stone deal are invalidated as a result of the suit, the offer will rise to $23.50 per share. If both fees are ruled invalid, the price will be $24 per share, Woodside said.

In afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, EPL shares rose 40 cents, or 1.6 percent, to close at $24.95. The company’s stock rose $5.90, or 32.1 percent, on Monday after EPL disclosed Woodside’s proposal. EPL shares have traded in a 52-week range of $16.37 to 32.98.

EPL has said that it is reviewing Woodside’s proposal. In the meantime, EPL shareholders are now reviewing the proposed Stone acquisition. Stone has said it intends to proceed with the EPL deal.

Woodside also said it filed suit in Delaware challenging an EPL bylaw requiring 85 percent of the company’s shareholders to approve the removal and appointment of the company’s board members. Woodside said it believes only a majority of EPL shareholders have to approve such a move.

Through its Covington, La.-based subsidiary, ATS Inc., Woodside said it wants to replace the EPL board with its own nominees.

The tender offer by Woodside is effective until Sept. 28.

Woodside, based in Perth, Australia, has been involved in U.S. exploration activities since 1999. The company says it has 3,400 employees, exploration interests in 11 countries and petroleum production in four.

In another attempt to boost its presence in the Gulf of Mexico, Woodside acquired Houston-based Gryphon Exploration last year.

Woodside is the operator and one-sixth owner of the North West Shelf Venture, Australia’s largest natural resources project that includes oil and natural gas, liquefied natural gas and liquid petroleum gas.

EPL was founded in 1998 by Richard Bachmann, the company’s current chairman and chief executive officer, and has focused primarily on exploration and the acquisitions of mature petroleum fields in the Gulf.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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