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ONGC, GAIL Keen to Buy ExxonMobil Stake in Kazakh Oil Field

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NEW DELHI (Dow Jones Newswires), June 8, 2011

Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) and GAIL are working on a plan to buy at least a part of ExxonMobil's stake in Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field, in yet another push by the South Asian country to secure energy assets for its expanding economy.

"We are interested. We are working on it," GAIL Chairman B.C. Tripathi told Dow Jones Newswires. He didn't say how much of Exxon's stake in Kashagan were the two state-run companies looking to acquire.

"The discussions have been going on but no decision has been made yet," said a senior ONGC executive, who didn't wish to be named.

ONGC is India's flagship oil explorer while GAIL is the country's largest gas distributor by market share.

Earlier Wednesday, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported that ONGC Videsh Ltd., ONGC's overseas investment arm, and GAIL are jointly planning to buy an 8.4% stake in the Kashagan oil field from Exxon Mobil for about $5 billion.

The consortium has submitted a non-binding bid to Exxon to buy about half of its 16.8% stake in the oil field, the report said, citing documents related to the deal.

Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers told Dow Jones Newswires the company doesn't comment "on rumors, speculation or media reports."

"Kazakhstan is an important element of the Exxon Mobil global portfolio and we have a long-term commitment to the country," Jeffers said.

India, which meets nearly four-fifths of its crude oil requirement through imports, has been eying energy assets in Kazakhstan. The Central Asian nation is expected to become one of the world's top 10 oil producers by 2025 and one of the top three contributors to production growth outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

In April, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev underlined the importance of energy cooperation between the two countries.

India has lagged its rival China in the race for energy assets in Kazakhstan, which is home to some of China's largest investments.

China National Petroleum Corp. and Kazakhstan's national oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas, signed a new energy cooperation agreement in February. CNPC has said that its oil and gas production in Kazakhstan reached a record 30 million metric tons of oil equivalent in 2010 and that it plans to double the transmission capacity of the crude oil pipeline linking the two countries to 20 million metric tons a year, or 401,600 barrels a day, by 2013.

"The decision making in Indian state-run companies on acquisitions is very slow as they have to seek too many approvals and there are layers of sanctions required," said Jagannadham Thunuguntla, equity head of brokerage SMC Capitals Ltd. "The multi-billion-dollar deals also need parliament approval, which further slows the speed. India needs to move fast to seal such deals."

Kazakhstan expects its Kashagan oil field, which lies in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, to begin production by the end of 2012. Production is expected to reach 1.0 million tons in the second phase of development and 1.5 million tons in the third phase.

KazMunaiGas, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, ExxonMobil, Total SA and ENI SpA each own 16.81% in Kashagan while ConocoPhillips and Japan's Inpex Corp. hold 8.4% and 7.56%, respectively.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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