Rosneft wins American access in Exxon deal

MOSCOW/LONDON Fri Apr 13, 2012 10:59pm IST

A view of the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas September 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

A view of the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas September 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) - Russian state oil firm Rosneft (ROSN.MM) will gain access to North American energy sources and know-how for developing hard-to-produce reserves when it finalizes a joint venture with Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) on Monday, industry sources said.

Rosneft was offered a role in seven projects under its landmark deal last year with the biggest U.S. oil company, which could open up 36 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic offshore and help keep Russia's place as the world's top producer.

Rosneft chose three Exxon projects to start with - in West Texas, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and in Canada's province of Alberta - and will gain minority interests in them, the sources said. Further projects may eventually be pursued.

Rosneft's focus in North America will be on so-called unconventional hydrocarbons - including resources such as shale oil and shale gas. It will seek to deploy the advanced recovery methods used there at its own fields in Siberia.

Russia's oil tsar, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, will present the project to analysts with Exxon's CEO, Rex Tillerson, and the head of Rosneft, Eduard Khudainatov, on Wednesday in New York, according to an invitation to the event.

Exxon posted an announcement regarding the briefing on its web site later on Friday. A representative for Sechin declined to confirm his travel plans. Rosneft declined to comment.

The joint venture deal will be formalized on Monday, the sources said. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, however, that he was not aware of any planned meetings on the matter.

Finalizing the joint venture will mark a major turnaround for Exxon, which scaled back its presence in Russia after failing to take over the country's largest oil company Yukos, whose boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in 2003.

Khodorkovsky was subsequently jailed for fraud and tax evasion, Yukos was bankrupted by back-tax claims and Rosneft snapped up its prime assets at auction to become Russia's largest oil producer.

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

Exxon has projects in the Permian Basin in West Texas, a mature oil-producing region like Western Siberia where tight oil - harder to extract than conventional oil - has regained appeal at higher oil prices, and is developing Canadian shale oil.

Under the terms of the deal, initialed in August 2011, the two will also look at joint development of tight oil in Western Siberia, where production of conventional oil is in decline.

Russian oil companies have little experience in tight oil but look to U.S. technologies as an example of what is possible at home. Russia's No.2 oil producer, LUKOIL, has also said it is interested in pursuing unconventional oil in the United States, though it has been put off by high asset prices.

Rosneft has said that it could have more than 2.5 billion tonnes of oil in the shales of the so-called Bazhenov formation at its West Siberian conventional fields - discovered and explored by Soviet-era geologists.

Analysts say the Siberian tight oil - which is held in non-porous rock - might be brought to production sooner than the three offshore blocks in the hostile and challenging environment of the Arctic Kara Sea that Rosneft and Exxon plan to explore.

Russia has not made a major oil discovery since the Soviet era, and developing offshore and unconventional fields will be vital to keeping its lead as the world's largest oil producer and sustaining output at above 10 million barrels per day.

The Exxon-Rosneft deal was contingent on a softened tax regime for Arctic offshore investment. That won political backing on Thursday from Putin, who returns to the Kremlin next month after winning a presidential election.

In contrast to the United States, where oil companies face political pressure to pay more taxes, Russia, is looking for ways to soften one of the world's toughest tax regimes that has been blamed for a shortfall in investment in the sector which provides the country with over half its budget revenue.

Speculation has intensified, meanwhile, over the lineup of Russia's next government, to be headed by outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev, who has a history of conflict with Sechin and forced him to stand down as Rosneft chairman last year.

Sechin - who has been close to Putin for two decades - could cement his claim to stay on by wrapping up the Exxon-Rosneft deal, although a move to one of the structures that report directly to the Kremlin has also been mooted.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Melissa Akin, Olesya Astakhova, Gleb Bryanski and Douglas Busvine in Moscow, additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York, Writing by Melissa Akin and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)