A group led by Apollo Global Management agreed to acquire El Paso Corporation’s oil and natural gas exploration business for $7.15 billion in the second-biggest private equity takeover of an energy producer. Apollo joins Riverstone Holdings, Access Industries Inc. and other investors in the transaction, El Paso said in a statement. Riverstone, based in New York, invests in the energy and power industries, and Access is the New York-based firm founded by Russian-born investor Len Blavatnik. The deal is on par with KKR & Co’s $7.2 billion takeover of Samson Investment Co. last year. El Paso’s assets are attractive because of their acreage in the Niobrara field in Colorado and the Eagle Ford and Wolfcamp fields in Texas, which produce more profitable oil and natural gas liquids such as propane and butane, said Raymond James & Associates’ Darren Horowitz. “All of those areas are, I think, the right place at the right time,” said the Houston-based analyst, who rates Kinder Morgan an “outperform” and doesn’t own the stock. Buyout firms are vying to expand their energy investments as the world’s biggest energy companies sell mature oil and gas fields to finance new exploration. The oil and gas exploration and production unit was put up for sale to help Kinder Morgan Inc. finance its $21.1 billion purchase of El Paso later this year. Scheduled to close in the second quarter, that transaction is set to create the largest US gas pipeline network. Apollo, which is run by founder Leon Black, is planning $5.5 billion of debt financing for the purchase, said three people with knowledge of the transaction. The financing is expected to include $3.5 billion of bonds and a $2 billion loan, said the people, who asked not be identified because the terms are private. About half the loan will be used to fund the buyout, the people said. “Apollo is acquiring a company with an impressive portfolio of valuable natural resource assets, a talented management team and a remarkable group of highly skilled employees,” Joshua Harris, Apollo’s co-founder and senior managing director, said in a statement. Analysts predicted in October that the unit would sell for as much as $9 billion.