UPDATE 2-Freeport to buy Apache's Gulf of Mexico assets after shale sale

(Updates with Freeport announcement, adds Apache quotes, details)

May 8 (Reuters) - Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc said on Thursday it would buy Apache Corp's deepwater oil and gas projects in the Gulf of Mexico for $1.4 billion, a day after saying it would shed $3.1 billion in Eagle Ford shale assets in Texas.

Mining giant Freeport said the Eagle Ford asset sale will fund the purchase of interests in two development projects and 11 deepwater exploration blocks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, Apache known for its experience using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to unlock oil and gas from rock, has been selling assets overseas and in the Gulf to focus on lucrative shale fields in North America.

A 21-percent rise in liquids production from onshore fields helped Apache post a better-than-expected first-quarter profit on Thursday.

Apache, like Occidental Petroleum Corp and Hess Corp , has been boosting production in North American shale, though several other companies have struggled to build efficient shale operations.

Freeport, a major copper producer, said on Wednesday it was selling some of its Eagle Ford assets to Encana Corp, Canada's top natural gas company, as part of a plan to raise as much as $4 billion.

Freeport is looking to reduce its $20.9 debt load, which ballooned after it surprised the market in late 2012 with a $9 billion purchase of both Plains Exploration & Production Co and McMoRan Exploration Co.

The assets being acquired have 55 million oil-equivalent barrels in estimated proved, probable and possible reserves.

Freeport and Apache shares were little changed in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.


Apache said it would focus more on exploration opportunities in water depths less than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in the Gulf of Mexico, while looking for joint venture options for its other deepwater fields.

"Discoveries on the shelf have quicker cycle times, require less capital, and provide more options to bring oil and gas to market," said Thomas E. Voytovich, Apache's chief operating officer for offshore and international operations.

Apache, which previously sold its properties in Canada and Argentina, is also aiming to sell a part of its 50 percent stake in the Kitimat liquefied natural gas export project in British Columbia.

Apache's first-quarter adjusted profit was $1.78 per share, above the average analyst estimate of $1.62, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But worldwide net daily production of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids fell 18 percent on the year to average 640,000 barrels of oil equivalent.

Revenue fell 7 percent to $3.67 billion, but beat the average analyst estimate of $3.56 billion.

(Reporting by Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; Editing by Ted Kerr, Terry Wade and Marguerita Choy)