Wires

UPDATE 2-Apache shares jump 26% on major discovery in Suriname with Total

Shariq Khan

(Updates share movement, adds analyst comment, background)

Jan 7 (Reuters) - Apache Corp and Total SA said on Tuesday they had made a major oil discovery in the hotly-tipped Maka-Central 1 well off the coast of Suriname, sending Apache's shares surging nearly 26%.

The well, dubbed "among the most anticipated in the world" by one brokerage, is seen as central to Apache's efforts to reduce its reliance on the "Alpine High" venture in Texas' Permian basin, which has suffered from a dive in natural gas prices.

Analysts said it was impossible to ascertain as yet how much oil the find would generate but it is just over the border from Exxon Mobil-led discoveries off Guyana that are estimated to hold more than 6 billion barrels of oil.

Apache said the well in the South American nation confirmed a geologic model with 73 meters (240 feet) of oil pay and 50 meters (164 feet) of light oil and gas condensate pay, with more appraisal planning was underway.

"This discovery could be really transformational for a company that has really been a laggard since the Alpine High discovery," said Michael Scialla, an analyst at Stifel.

New York-listed Apache's shares rose to their highest since May 2019 and were last up 24.6% at $31.94.

Analysts from RBC Capital Markets also called the discovery "significant," but another brokerage, Cowen & Co, warned that the partnership with Total meant it could take years for significant cash flow to reach Apache.

The U.S. oil and gas firm reported a steady decline in output in the last two reported quarters of 2019, and it has reduced drilling activity at Alpine High and warned it may move capital away from the region if gas prices don't recover.

It has also pledged to spend 20% less on capital outlays this year than in 2019.

The agreement with Total included a $100 million upfront payment, and additional payments for expenses incurred during the exploration.

"It's binary. Yesterday, Suriname was worth nothing and now: we don't know what it's going to be worth," said BofA Global Research energy analyst Doug Leggate. "For a company of Apache's size, this is a potential game changer." (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Editing by Louise Heavens, Bernard Orr and Sriraj Kalluvila)