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News Update (September 29, 2009 04:46 PM...)

Chinese firm may offer $50b for Nigerian oil blocks

In a move that may change the structure of the Nigerian oil and gas industry, China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), the country’s third-biggest crude producer may offer a whooping $50 billion to obtain some oil producing licenses in the country.

Olusegun Adeniyi, a spokesman for President Umaru Yar’Adua, confirmed yesterday that CNOOC was among companies in talks to acquire 16 production licences in Nigeria.

He said the licenses were originally awarded to other producers and expired last year, but no decision had been taken on reassigning them.

Chinese oil companies had earlier announced plans to spend at least $16 billion to gain access to Africa’s energy assets to meet rising fuel demand at home, but in the current negotiation, CNOOC was said to be targeting 6 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to one in six barrels of the proven reserves in Nigeria.

The value of CNOOC’s offer for the Nigerian oil assets isn’t stated in the letter from the Nigerian President, but the Financial Times which cited unnamed oil industry executive said the offer could be as high as $50 billion.

Tanimu Yakubu, economic adviser to the Nigerian president, said that the Chinese “are really offering multiples of what existing producers are pledging for licences. We love to see this kind of competition.”

Apparently China is bidding with $50 billion. Despite the potential cultural spats, despite the legal changes in Nigeria that demand more national autonomy with their oil assets, and despite previous failures by the Chinese to secure stakes, it looks like they might push the whole thing through via the sheer weight of cash.

China National’s attempt to buy the stakes will put it into competition with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., Total SA and Exxon Mobil Corp. which have traditionally dominated Nigeria’s oil industry.

“The Chinese are desperate to feed their economic growth with African oil, including Nigeria’s, and they need new markets for their consumer and industrial output,” Arild Nodland, chief executive officer of Bergen Risk Solutions, said by e-mail.

“This is part of the long-term trend among Chinese oil companies to secure resources,” said Michael Yuk, an analyst at Sun Hung Kai Financial in Hong Kong. “I can see increasing bids from Chinese companies for oil assets overseas.”

About 83 percent of CNOOC’s reserves are off China’s coast, the company’s annual report shows. The company has interests in oil and gas fields in Africa, Australia and Indonesia.

Securing oil resources in Nigeria lessens China’s dependence on crude from the Middle East, said Gordon Kwan, an energy analyst at Mirae Asset Securities in Hong Kong. “Nigeria also offers a training ground for Cnooc’s future move into deepwater oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea,” Kwan said.

China’s oil consumption doubled in the last decade, rising to 8 million barrels a day last year from 4.2 million barrels in 1998, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review. The world’s third-largest economy imported 3.6 million barrels of oil a day in 2008, meeting about 45 percent of its needs.

In 2008, China signed an accord with the Democratic Republic of Congo that would deliver $9 billion of infrastructure and mining investments in exchange for mineral rights. Four Chinese state-owned companies, including state- owned Sinohydro Corp. and China Railway Engineering Corp., would receive rights over more than 10 million tons of copper deposits and 600,000 tons of cobalt.

China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corp., a state-owned contractor, said in July 2008 it was developing an iron ore mine in Gabon. Sinomach, as the company is known, signed a 25-year venture accord with the government to build and operate a mine producing as much as 30 million tons of the steelmaking ingredients a year.

Zijin Mining Group Co., China’s largest gold producer, is looking to buy mines in Ghana, Zimbabwe and other African nations, Wayne Gao, deputy general manager of the overseas development division said in April 2008.

Meanwhile, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has kicked against the bid by the Chinese energy group to secure 6 billion barrels of crude reserves, comparing the potential new investors to “locusts”.

MEND said yesterday that the record of Chinese companies in other African counties suggested “an entry into the oil industry in Nigeria will be a disaster for the oil-bearing communities”.

“Our take on the Chinese is that we see them as locusts who will ravage any farmland in minutes,” said a Mend spokesman, although he added that “existing [oil companies operating there] are no better except that they adhere to standards under the right conditions”.

The warning from Mend underscores the difficulties the Chinese group would face in making such a sweeping entry into one of the world’s most difficult oil frontiers.

At least one-third of Nigeria’s oil capacity is shut because of attacks by militants, who have blown up pipelines and kidnapped oil workers in the name of the people of the delta, who remain poor despite the oil wealth beneath their lands. The groups are also involved in a multi-billion-dollar trade in stolen oil.

Human rights activists have criticised China’s readiness to work with regimes such as those in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma and elsewhere in its quest to secure resources.

Some Nigerian officials worry that the Chinese practice of importing its own staff will exacerbate resentment in the delta.

The government has sought to lure militants from the delta’s creeks with pardons, stipends and the promise of training. But with just days to go until the amnesty’s October 4 deadline, several senior militants have yet to give up their weapons.

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