* Waha produces 300,000 boe/d, aims for 400,000 boe/d
* Total sees "significant" exploration potential
* Libyan oil industry slowly recovering from turmoil (Adds Woodmac comment, background on Mabruk)
By Ahmad Ghaddar and Aidan Lewis
LONDON/TUNIS, March 2 (Reuters) - French energy company Total substantially raised its presence in Libya with the purchase of a 16.33 percent stake in Libya's Waha concessions from U.S. Marathon Oil for $450 million on Friday.
The deal will give Total access to reserves and resources in excess of 500 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe), with immediate production of around 50,000 boe/d (per day) and "significant exploration potential" in concessions in the Sirte Basin, the company said in a statement.
"This acquisition is in line with Total's strategy to reinforce its portfolio with high quality and low-technical cost assets whilst bolstering our historic strength in the Middle East and North Africa region," said Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne.
Total has been in Libya for decades and holds a production share of 31,500 boe/d in 2017 from concessions in the offshore Al Jurf field and the onshore Sharara field. It also has a share in Mabruk field, which has been closed for several years because of poor security.
The Waha Oil Company, a subsidiary of Libya's state-owned National Oil Corp (NOC), currently produces 300,000 boe/d, which is expected to rise to 400,000 boe/d by the end of the decade, Total said.
Other Waha stakeholders are NOC with 59.18 percent, ConocoPhillips with 16.33 percent and Hess with 8.16 percent.
The oil industry in OPEC member Libya has staged a partial recovery after being hit by blockades and armed conflict following an uprising seven years ago.
National production dropped to lows of about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd), before rebounding to 1 million bpd last summer.
It is still well under the 1.6 million bpd Libya was producing before 2011, and the industry has suffered continuing stoppages including the current closure of the southwestern El Feel field due to a protest by guards.
Waha is one of Libya's main export grades. It is shipped from the eastern port of Es Sider, which was blockaded by an armed faction between 2014 and 2016.
Es Sider and other ports in Libya's Oil Crescent are now controlled by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which allowed the NOC to reopen them in late 2016.
Waha's chairman said in November that the company was aiming to increase output to 375,000 bpd by the end of 2018, but faced major funding shortfalls and challenges in maintaining damaged infrastructure.
"Production and reserves growth is a key deal driver," Woodmac VP for Corporate Analysis Luke Parker said. "There's certainly upside from where we are today ... Realising this upside would see Total create significant value through the deal."
Marathon's sale marks a full exit from Libya, a move it has been considering since at least mid-2013 but has been prevented from doing so by the NOC. [here ]
"Our relentless focus on portfolio management has driven seven country exits since 2013 and generated proceeds of over $4 billion just in the last two years," said Lee Tillman, Marathon president and CEO.
In a regulatory filing in 2011, Marathon valued the Waha asset at $761 million. At the time, oil prices were roughly double where they stand today. Brent was trading above $63 a barrel on Friday. [here ]
"They received what we consider a pretty good price for the asset given that it was considered non-core," said Jason Gammel, equity analyst at U.S. investment bank Jefferies.
He said Total were "probably better able to manage the geopolitical risk of a wide-base of operations across the Middle East."
The Marathon sale marks the second exit for a U.S. company from Libya in recent years.
Occidental Petroleum Corp sold a 7 percent stake in the Nafoura oilfield to Austria's OMV in late 2016. (Editing by Edmund Blair and Elaine Hardcastle)