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Freeport energy push an opportunity: exec

Keywords: Tags  Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Freeport, Richard Adkerson, copper, Plains Exploration & Production, McMoRan Exploration, oil and gas, energy oil

NEW YORK — Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s plan to spend billions of dollars to enter the oil and gas market offers very attractive opportunities going forward, despite the claims of critics, president and chief executive officer Richard Adkerson said.

Phoenix-based Freeport came under fire after announcing Dec. 5 that it would purchase Plains Exploration & Production Co., Houston, and McMoRan Exploration, New Orleans, for $9 billion. Critics raised concerns about issues ranging from incompatible assets to the company’s alleged lack of disclosure to shareholders (, Dec. 6).

However, given the limited amount of copper resources in the world, this opportunity was one Freeport couldn’t pass over, Adkerson told analysts in a Jan. 22 earnings call.

"The board was faced with the situation about limited opportunities to invest in copper beyond our brownfield expansions," Adkerson said. "Over the years, we’ve been tracking opportunities to invest outside the company in the mining business and have not found opportunities that were attractive to us."

Freeport will acquire Plains Exploration’s oil and gas assets in the United States, including deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, onshore production of the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas and in Haynesville, La., and oil production facilities in California.

While some claim there are no obvious synergies between copper, oil and gas, Adkerson insists the "growth in oil and gas is complimentary to the growth in mining" and these acquisitions "will allow the company to maintain a strong balance sheet."

The deals, expected to close by the second quarter, not only will allow Freeport to diversity its commodities assets and enhance its exploration capabilities—Adkerson highlighted McMoRan’s ultradeep gas drilling program and Plains’ deepwater exploration expertise—but it gives Freeport "an important position in (the) U.S. natural gas market for the long term," he said.

Freeport will still receive most of its profits from copper, Adkerson noted.

"After those transactions, I want to point out that 75 percent of our business will be represented by our global mining business, and copper will continue to be the driver of our cash flows and profitability," he said.

"This is not a question of having an old Freeport and a new Freeport," Adkerson said later in the call. "This is going to be the long-term tradition of Freeport going forward in terms of the way we run this business. This is not any kind of transformation transaction that’s going to change traditions that have been part of this company for a long period of time."

Freeport has also set up a "special committee of independent and unaffiliated directors who considered this transaction and negotiated the terms," he said.

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