Woodside aims to seal LNG plant stake sale ahead of $11-B gas project go-ahead

MELBOURNE, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Woodside Petroleum expects strong buyer interest in the sale of a share of a new production unit at its Pluto LNG plant, top executives said on Thursday, a precondition for a planned $11 B expansion at its Scarborough gas and Pluto project.

The renewed push by Australia's biggest independent gas producer on the 8-MMtpy expansion project comes after last year's COVID-19 induced collapse in oil and gas prices drove its underlying annual profit down 58% to $447 MM.

The result was well short of analysts' forecasts, which sent its shares down as much as 3.7% after the result was released on Thursday.

Woodside is looking to sell a 50% stake in the new production unit, or train, at the Pluto LNG plant in Western Australia, which will be fed with gas from the Scarborough project.

Selling a stake would be key to avoiding a capital raising or a credit downgrade.

The company suspended the sale process last year when oil prices slumped but is now optimistic about luring buyers.

"We're now sitting in a much more attractive pricing environment," Chief Financial Officer Sherry Duhe told analysts.

"The buyer appetite for infrastructure assets just continues to grow. And so we do believe that there'll be strong interest in that asset," she said.

Woodside's other growth project underway is the Sangomar oil development off Senegal, where its partner FAR Ltd has just received a tentative takeover offer from Russia's Lukoil.

Woodside last year pre-empted Lukoil from buying Cairn Energy's stake in Sangomar, as it was concerned the project could then fall foul of U.S. sanctions on Russia.

However Chief Executive Peter Coleman said on Thursday there was no concern with Lukoil becoming a partner through a takeover of FAR, as FAR's stake in the Senegal project was below the 33% equity threshold for U.S. sanctions.

Woodside stuck to its forecast for fiscal 2021 output of 90-95 MMb of oil equivalent, lower than its production in 2020.

On a statutory basis, Woodside posted an annual loss of $4.03 B, its first loss in eighteen years, hit by $4.37 B in asset write-downs it took at the half-year.

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