ExxonMobil announced on Thursday it had agreed to pay Eni $2.8bn for a 25 per cent stake in the Italian energy company’s Mozambique gas resources, in a big bet by the US group on expansion of global demand for liquefied natural gas.

The cash deal marks a second significant transaction for Darren Woods, Exxon’s new chief executive, after January’s $6.6bn acquisition of US shale oil assets, and signals a push to replenish the group’s reserves and improve growth prospects.

Mozambique has some of the world’s largest untapped natural gas resources and Eni has been looking for a partner to help develop the infrastructure needed to bring them to market.

The deal involves the so-called area 4 deepwater block controlled by Eni and includes the Coral South LNG project, which is among the biggest of its kind awaiting development anywhere in the world.

The global LNG market has been flooded with new supplies from Australia and the US in recent years but Exxon and Eni are counting on demand continuing to grow as countries switch from coal to gas-fired power generation because of the latter’s lower emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s chief executive, said the deal showed how Eni was monetising its exploration success after several big oil and gas discoveries around Africa. Thursday’s Mozambique sale follows deals last year in which Eni sold stakes in a large Egyptian gasfield to Rosneft and BP.

“Through this strategy, Eni has been able to cash in more than $9bn in the last four years,” said Mr Descalzi, adding that Exxon’s investment was an endorsement of “the world-class quality, production potential, technical and financial robustness” of the Mozambique assets.

Mr Woods, who succeeded Rex Tillerson, the new US secretary of state, at the helm of Exxon in January, said the Eni deal supported the group’s aim for a leadership role in LNG.

Under the terms of the agreement, Eni will continue to lead the Coral LNG project and all upstream activities in area 4, while Exxon will lead the construction and operation of natural gas liquefaction facilities onshore.

Eni struck a deal last year to sell the entire output from Coral South to BP for the next 20 years.

Exxon is due to secure a 25 per cent indirect interest in area 4 by acquiring half of Eni’s 71.4 per cent stake in its Mozambique subsidiary Eni East Africa, the remainder of which is owned by CNPC of China.

Eni East Africa controls the area 4 concession alongside three minority shareholders: Kogas of South Korea, Galp Energia of Portugal and Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos, Mozambique’s national oil company.

The deal, once completed, will take Eni a long way towards its target, announced last week, to raise between €5bn and €7bn from asset disposals over the next four years.

Bringing partners into its biggest projects is helping Eni reduce debts and capital expenditure by unlocking value from new oil and gas developments before they come on stream.

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