London-based energy giant BP has agreed to sell some of its deepwater oil and gas assets in the Gulf of Mexico to Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production in a nearly $5.6 billion deal, landing lead roles for Latham & Watkins and Gardere Wynne Sewell.
The sale is the latest in a string of major oil and gas transactions yielding work for corporate lawyers around the globe. For BP, it represents the latest divestiture by the world’s third-largest integrated oil and gas company as it seeks to raise money to offset mounting cleanup costs and expenses associated with the largest oil spill in U.S. history two years ago in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just last week, the U.S. Department of Justice accused BP of “ gross negligence and willful misconduct” over the disaster caused by an explosion that tore apart the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform. BP faces up to $20 billion in fines as a result of the massive spill, even as a $7.8 billion litigation settlement heads toward final approval, according to a recent story by sibling publication The National Law Journal.
While derivatives litigation against BP in the United States is struggling to stay alive, according to the NLJ, the British oil giant is trying to overcome a series of write-downs as estimates on losses from the 2010 spill continue to climb. As a result, BP posted a $1.4 billion loss in the second quarter of this year, and the company has begun to refocus itself on higher-return fields, according to The New York Times.
Gardere energy industry practice head Douglas Eyberg and energy partner Timothy Spear are leading a team of lawyers from the Dallas-based Am Law 200 firm advising BP on its current $5.55 billion sale of a portfolio of five properties in the Gulf of Mexico to Plains.
Eyberg and Spear represented BP in 2010 on the $7 billion sale of various assets to Houston-based oil and gas company Apache. Gardere also advised BP in 2011 on its $575.5 million sale of a controlling stake in a Colorado natural gas plant to Anadarko Petroleum, as well as the $1 billion sale earlier this year of BP’s Jonah gas properties in Wyoming to Linn Energy.
Rupert Bondy serves as group general counsel for BP, while John Lynch Jr. is the head of its Americas in-house legal department. BP turned to DLA Piper in August for outside counsel on the $2.5 billion sale of its Southern California refining and marketing business, according to our previous reports, and it remains in negotiations with Moscow-based oil giant Rosneft over the potential sale of BP’s 50 percent stake in Russian affiliate TNK-BP. (A Russian arbitration court ruled against BP this summer in litigation related to the TNK–BP joint venture.)
Michael Darden, a former oil and gas practice head at Baker Botts who helped Latham open an office in Houston when he joined the firm as its global oil and gas industry chair in early 2010, is advising Plains on its proposed transaction with BP along with Latham corporate partner Jeffrey Munoz, tax partner Laurence Stein, and employee benefits partner David Della Rocca.
Latham previously advised Plains on its $818 million acquisition of shallow-water assets in the Gulf of Mexico owned by New Orleans–based McMoRan Exploration in 2010. John Wombwell, a former partner at Andrews Kurth, serves as general counsel for Plains, whose deal with BP is expected to close before the end of the year.
BP’s Gulf of Mexico asset sale isn’t the only major oil and gas deal to be announced in recent days.
On Monday, Switzerland-based Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor and a key player in Deepwater Horizon–related litigation in the U.S. with BP, announced it had reached a roughly $1 billion deal to sell 38 oil rigs to a private equity consortium advised by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. ( The Am Law Daily reported separately on the lawyers working on that deal.)
Last week New York–based Hess Corporation announced plans to sell minority stakes in oil fields in the Caspian Sea— BP operates the fields located off the Azerbaijani coast—to the overseas investment arm of India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the largest exploration and production company on the subcontinent.
John Geraghty, a corporate partner at Allen & Overy in London, is leading a team from the Magic Circle firm advising Hess on the transaction. Assistant general counsel Todd Carpunky has taken the lead in-house on the deal for Hess, whose general counsel is Timothy Goodell, a former cochair of the global M&A practice at White & Case and brother of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell. (Hess founder Leon Hess owned the NFL’s New York Jets until his death in 1999.)
Tom Deegan and Vivien Yang from British firm Simmons & Simmons in Hong Kong are advising ONGC on its deal with Hess, which last month elected to its board of directors former U.S. senator and retired  King & Spalding partner  Samuel Nunn Jr., who will serve with former U.S. Department of the Treasury general counsel  Edith Holiday.
British legal publication The Lawyer reported this week that Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling are also advising on a $900 million project finance deal to develop the Tamar gas field located 50 miles off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea. The transaction is the largest-ever project finance deal in Israel, where Reuters reports another major offshore gas field called Leviathan is receiving development offers that figure to provide work for project finance lawyers.
Last month, Linklaters and Herbert Smith landed roles on a $2 billion oil exploration financing agreement between Russian state-owned Rosneft and Italian energy giant Eni, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. Linklaters has also teamed with Magic Circle rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in advising Rosneft on four new joint venture agreements with Norway’s Statoil to explore oil and gas fields in the Arctic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, according to The Lawyer.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius is representing Statoil on the accord, having picked up the Norwegian oil and gas giant as a client earlier this year after making a series of lateral hires from the now defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf