Brazil's QGEP: Oil Royalties Dispute Unlikely to Delay Concession Auctions

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazilian oil-and-natural gas company QGEP Participacoes said Thursday that an ongoing dispute over the distribution of oil royalties was unlikely to delay a much-anticipated auction of oil and natural-gas-exploration concessions.

The threat of lawsuits by major oil-producing states Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo to fight the equal distribution of royalties from existing and future oil production between Brazil's 27 states does "raise the risk" of a delay, QGEP Chief Executive Lincoln Guardado said Thursday during a conference call with analysts. The risk, however, has been diminished by recent signs that nonproducing states are willing to negotiate a deal to avoid a protracted fight in the courts.

The deal would reverse changes implemented last week when Brazil's Congress voted to overturn a presidential veto of key portions of new oil-royalties legislation, equally distributing royalties from existing and future oil production between the country's 27 states. Rio, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo, however, plan to fight the changes by filing lawsuits with Brazil's Supreme Court.

Oil companies are eagerly awaiting Brazil's 11th-round auction of oil and natural-gas-exploration concessions, which is set for May 14-15. The last auction in Brazil was held in December 2008, and oil companies have said they are running out of areas to explore. Given the government's desire to promote the bidding round, even if there is a delay because of a legal tussle the auction, "should still be held in the first half of 2013," Mr. Guardado said.

QGEP has nearly one billion Brazilian reais ($510 million) in cash, giving the company "significant financial flexibility to participate in the auction," Mr. Guardado added.

Not only is QGEP looking toward the auction to improve its portfolio, but the company is also interested in seeing what assets state-run energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro, or Petrobras, makes available in its divestment plan. Petrobras previously said that it would sell off about $15 billion in assets, including some holdings in Brazil.

QGEP, the oil-and-natural-gas exploration arm of local industrial conglomerate Queiroz Galvao, also said it was interested in selling down its 100% stake in the BM-J-2 exploration block. While reducing the company's level of risk "makes business sense," Mr. Guardado said that the Brazilian market is "oversupplied" with opportunities to buy into offshore exploration blocks.

QGEP still doesn't have a timeline for when the company and its partners in the BM-S-8 block will release a volume estimate for the much-anticipated Carcara subsalt discovery, Mr. Guardado said. "We need more data to make an announcement on a range of volumes," he said. The executive, however, said that some estimates of recoverable reserves at about one billion barrels of crude oil and in-place oil volumes of about five billion barrels may be in the range of possibilities.

The estimates were "potential" numbers, but that other estimates also existed and needed to be further evaluated via a well-stem test that is set for the second half of 2013.

Carcara contains an oil column of more than 400 meters, one of the largest discovered in the subsalt region off Brazil's coast where billions of barrels of oil have been discovered under a layer of salt.

Late Wednesday, QGEP said that it recorded a net profit of BRL47.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, nearly doubling net profits in the same period the year before. Net profit jumped on higher natural-gas production from the company's Manati field and strong demand for the fuel in Brazil, QGEP said.


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