Occidental goes with private buyer in land deal

CASPER — The buyer of roughly 5 million combined acres of land and mineral rights in the southern tier of Wyoming has finally been revealed. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that Orion Mine Finance would be acquiring the world’s richest deposits of trona in a $1.33 billion deal, dashing Wyoming’s hopes to “invest in itself” amid declining mineral revenues and slowing returns from the stock market. 

“Acquiring high-quality producing royalties is a core component of our investment strategy and we are thrilled to be partnering with Occidental in this transaction,” Oskar Lewnowski, chief investment officer of Orion, said in a statement. “This transaction offers significant royalty cash flow from the trona mines and has strong potential for mineral development.” 

He added: “As a firm we recognize the importance of US mineral and energy production and are pleased to be able to offer our support to the existing world-class operators and their associated communities.”

Orion — which describes itself as a “global alternative investment management firm” — currently manages $6.2 billion in assets worldwide and specializes in institutional metals and mining investment strategies on several continents. 

Under the terms of the deal, Occidental Petroleum — the owners of the land — will retain all cash flow from currently producing oil and gas properties on the position. No other terms of the deal, which is set to close at the end of 2020, have been disclosed. 

The state of Wyoming was considered to be one of the top bidders in the deal, which first became public shortly before the COVID pandemic and an energy downturn led to the state’s current fiscal crisis.

Earlier this month, however, the state was informed they would not be the winning bidder despite offering $1.2 billion in cash for the entirety of the Oxy property, according to terms released by the governor’s office Wednesday evening. If that were not accepted, the state also proposed terms of $225 million for the land and all minerals other than trona.

The state’s bid, however, appears to have fallen short. 

“We felt the purchase would have been a good investment at the bid we submitted,” Treasurer Curt Meier said. “However, we believe our existing investment opportunities will also serve the needs of the state and its constituents. Exceeding our target bid was a risk we were not willing to take.” 

Gordon expressed his disappointment in a written statement Wednesday. 

“I thank Occidental Petroleum for the forthright way they communicated,” Governor Gordon said. 

“We worked hard to prepare a responsible, good faith bid, which we believe would have augmented Wyoming’s investment returns, bringing in more revenue to keep taxes in Wyoming low,” Gordon wrote. “Had Wyoming’s bid been accepted, the rate of return was expected to be in the range of 8% to 12%, depending on the assets and how quickly the economy recovers. This predicted rate of return is currently better than our current average rate of return.” 

The deal comes amid an effort by Occidental Petroleum to divest $2 billion in property by the end of this fiscal year as the company faces dramatic losses in valuation this year. According to a financial statement released by the company last week, Occidental has experienced impairment charges of $6.6 billion this quarter alone, with most of the hit coming from lagging performance in oil and natural gas. 

While the land sale would present a significant divestiture for Occidental, the company plans to continue its investments in oil, holding on to its existing land claims in northern Colorado’s DJ Basin and in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. 

“This transaction significantly advances the progress against our $2 billion plus divestiture target for 2020,” Occidental Petroleum’s President and CEO Vicki Hollub said in a statement.