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Freeport To Buy Plains, McMoRan Exploration

By JONATHAN FAHEY and SANDY SHORE

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Mining company Freeport-McMoRan is buying a pair of oil and gas producers for $9 billion, creating a natural resources conglomerate with assets ranging from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to a huge copper mine in Indonesia.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., based in Phoenix, said Wednesday it is paying $6.9 billion in cash and stock for Plains Exploration & Production Co., and $2.1 billion for McMoRan Exploration Co. The miner also will assume $11 billion in debt in the deal.

Plains Exploration, based in Houston, produces oil in California, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, along with natural gas in Louisiana. McMoRan Exploration, based in New Orleans, is developing natural gas resources that lie deep below shallow water regions of the Gulf of Mexico.

The opportunity to buy these two companies was too good to pass up, Argus Research analyst Bill Selesky said. Freeport-McMoRan will be able to diversify into a growing global market for natural gas without losing focus on mining operations.

It also gives the company a chance to help stabilize revenue streams that largely are depending on the commodity prices of copper and, to a smaller extent, gold.

Mining companies face growing challenges in finding and developing resources around the world. Besides development costs, there are environmental issues and increased geopolitical risks such as the nationalization of assets or the requirement of loyalty payments.

With this move, Freeport-McMoRan can operate in the Gulf of Mexico and North America, which have less risk, Selesky said.

But the recent track record of miners buying oil and gas companies has been mixed.

BHP Billiton, the Australian mining giant, wrote down the value of its U.S. natural gas assets by $2.8 billion in August. The company had paid $5 billion for much of those assets in 2011 when it bought reserves in the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas from Chesapeake Energy.

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