Cnooc Interested in Shell Nigeria Stakes

LONDON Nov 21, 2007 (Dow Jones Newswires)

China's Cnooc Ltd. (CEO) is looking into interests in Nigerian blocks held by Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN), according to a person familiar with the matter, the latest indication of China's rising assertiveness in Africa's oil sector.

Dow Jones Newswires reported Tuesday that Shell is considering selling interests in two Nigerian offshore blocks as it restructures its business in the troubled region, according to people familiar with the matter.

Cnooc spokesman Xiao Zongwei declined to comment.

The stakes, each of 49.8%, could fetch up to $900 million, one person said, adding Nigerian oil companies had also expressed interest for them. Agip, a unit of Eni SpA (ENI.MI), owns the remaining 50.2% in each block.

In January last year, Cnooc, which is China's largest offshore operator by output, already bought a 45% interest in Nigeria's Akpo field for $2.27 billion. The same month, Cnooc bought a 35% interest in the license to explore for oil in the OPL 229 block offshore Nigeria.

In June 2007, the Chinese company was also granted exploration rights by the Somalian petroleum ministry, though the deal was seen as invalid by then-Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

China is on course to overtake the U.S. as the world's largest energy consumer soon after 2010, according to the International Energy Agency, but its domestic oil production is set to peak around the same time, leaving a supply gap that will have to be filled by foreign oil.

As a result, Chinese oil companies are investing massively in the African continent searching for oil to fuel the country's booming economy.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (SNP), known as Sinopec Corp., paid $692.2 million for stakes in three deepwater oil blocks in Angola last year while China National Petroleum Corp., the parent company of PetroChina Co. (PTR), has interests in Sudan.

In addition to direct investments by oil companies, China's government has used a strategy of offering soft loans and aid to African countries to secure access to resources.

The acquisition of a Shell asset by a Chinese player would also exemplify the shift of influence from international majors to national companies on the global oil scene.

Last week, CNOOC was named as a possible acquirer of Shell's oil interests in Australia's North West Shelf.

The Anglo-Dutch oil major has said it expected to offload about $9 billion in assets in 2007.

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