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BP may clinch surprise deal in Saudi gas venture
London, 5th Apr 2001

  BP could soon be clinching a surprise deal to become a consortium leader for a core venture in Saudi Arabia's multi-billion dollar gas opening, industry sources said yesterday.

If the British-based major pulls it off it would edge out top contender TotalFinaElf in the stampede to cash in on Saudi Arabia's biggest energy opening since nationalization in 1975, the sources said.

Last-minute brinkmanship has apparently delayed the signing of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest holder of oil reserves and fifth largest of gas reserves. "Total does not seem to be in. The name has not come up lately. It looks like BP," an industry source told Reuters.

ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch/Shell also appear to have secured deals with Riyadh to become consortium leaders of two other gas ventures, the industry sources said. Top executives of the oil companies are expected to receive invitations to sign the MOUs in about two weeks.

That would mark the biggest step forward since Saudi Arabia unveiled its energy sector investment opening to oil majors two years ago. Saudi officials declined to comment. Signing a deal would be a major coup for BP because the company is seen as an outsider in Saudi Arabia, unlike other Western firms with a long history there.

BP, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, TotalFinaElf and Chevron are grouped for core venture one, the South Ghawar field. TotalFinaElf had been seen as the favorite to operate the venture worth an estimated $15 billion but now may just get a non-operating stake.

ExxonMobil is poised to lead core venture two to develop the Red Sea area, with TotalFinaElf, Royal Dutch/Shell and Marathon vying for non-operating shares. Royal Dutch/Shell is expected to clinch core venture three to develop gas at Shaybah, with Conoco, ExxonMobil, TotalFinaElf, Phillips and Enron/Oxy getting stakes.

The projects are to help develop existing gas reserves and invest in downstream projects fed by gas supplies, such as power and desalination. "Every company will get something," said an industry source. Although Saudi Arabia has enticed the world's biggest energy firms by opening up the upstream gas sector, investment in its prized oil sector remains off limits.

Source: Gulf News©

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