Asian groups dominate Brazil oil auction

The auction for one of Brazil’s biggest oil discoveries attracted little interest from western companies, with the list of bidders led instead by Chinese companies and other Asian state-owned oil groups. Many investor-owned companies such as Exxon, BG Group, BP and Chevron did not register to bid for Libra, considered the crown jewel of Brazil’s deepwater oilfields with forecast production of up to 1m barrels of oil equivalent a day. That is equivalent to about half of Brazil’s present production.

The auction drew only a quarter of bidders expected by the government, as concerns rise over onerous state controls in the industry. The list was led by Asian groups such as Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional, Petronas and India’s ONGC. From China, CNOOC and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) registered for the auction, as well as Sinopec via a joint venture with Spain’s Repsol. In total, 11 companies paid the R$2.05m registration fee before September 18’s deadline to bid for rights to explore Libra, according to a statement by ANP, Brazil’s oil and gas regulator.

Magda Chambriard, head of ANP, said she had expected more than 40 companies to bid during the auction, which is scheduled for October 21. France’s Total and Anglo-Dutch oil group Royal Dutch Shell were among the few non-state companies to register their interest in Libra’s pre-salt reserves, so-called because they are buried under a thick layer of salt beneath the seabed.

Next month’s auction will be the first under the country’s 2010 production-sharing agreement through which the government has sought to increase its control over the country’s newly discovered reserves. Under the model, the government will award rights to explore and produce oil at Libra to whichever company or group that promises to give the largest share of its output from the field to the Brazilian government. Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras will also automatically take a minimum stake of 30 per cent in the winning consortium and become the operator of the field, controlling exploration and production.

The list of bidders released by ANP was also notable for its lack of US companies, especially as tensions rise between the two countries. Reports this month that the US has been spying on all areas of Brazilian politics and business, including Petrobras, have led to calls for the government to postpone the Libra auction. On September 15, President Dilma Rousseff announced she would postpone indefinitely her state visit to Washington next month in response to the spying allegations.

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