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BP hires head of U.S. shale unit before spin-off

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil major BP has appointed a chief executive to look after its U.S. onshore oil and gas assets, months ahead of its plan to spin off the business to boost the profitability of its shale gas portfolio in the country.

SandRidge Energy Inc's former Chief Operating Officer David Lawler will take on the Houston-based role on Sept. 15. He will head the new business - called U.S. Lower 48 Onshore - which includes unconventional resources of around 7.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent across 20,000 wells.

Lawler has decades of experience in the U.S. energy market after working at Shell , ConocoPhillips and Burlington Resources in a variety of roles ranging from drilling engineering to exploration and production business development.

The U.S. unconventional oil and gas market is highly competitive and a number of other big oil companies, including rival European producers Shell and BG , have struggled to cope with depressed gas prices after making big investments.

BP announced in March it would create a separate U.S. onshore oil and gas unit early next year to allow faster decision-making and shorter cycle times to move from shale drilling to production.

Lawler's unit will start publishing separate financial information to the rest of BP from next year and operate under a different governance management, but BP will continue to own it.

Separately, the oil major also announced on Wednesday it was the highest bidder on 27 new leases in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, the basin where its Macondo well explosion killed 11 workers and caused a devastating oil spillage in 2010.

"We hope to continue building on ... the recent momentum that has returned to BP's operations in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico," the company said in a statement.

(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Additional reporting by Terry Wade in Houston; Editing by Pravin Char)

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