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China, India Vie for Russian Oil

The Wall Street Journal Home Page

China, India Vie for Russian Oil

Sinopec Follows 
ONGC With Bid 
For Imperial Energy
August 5, 2008; Page B2

China and India are facing off yet again in the race to secure energy resources to fuel their economic growth, this time in Russia’s Siberian oil fields.

[Energy Rise]

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec, has joined the bidding for London-listed Imperial Energy Corp., which primarily produces oil in Russia, a person familiar with the situation said Monday. India’s state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corp. has already offered about $2.5 billion for Imperial Energy, according to another person with knowledge of that offer.

Zhang Zheng, deputy director of Sinopec’s foreign affairs bureau, said he knew nothing about his company’s offer for Imperial Energy and hadn’t heard of the British company. Officials at ONGC weren’t available for comment.

Imperial Energy confirmed in a statement Monday that it had received another approach relating to a possible cash offer, but didn’t elaborate. The company said in a July 15 statement that it had received a cash offer of 1,290 pence ($25.46) a share, but didn’t name the offering company.

China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, rely on energy imports and have frequently butted heads in their efforts to invest in oil assets overseas, primarily in developing nations. The Sino-Indian rivalry has helped drive up the price of oil and gas fields around the world. Chinese companies bested ONGC or one of its affiliates in energy deals in Kazakhstan and Ecuador in 2005 and in Nigeria in 2006.

“I think it’s pretty clear that China wins every time the two go head to head in either buying equity stakes in oil blocks or companies. India doesn’t have China’s deep pockets — it’s as simple as that,” said Seema Desai, a London-based analyst at consulting firm Eurasia Group.

China and India have cooperated at times in their respective quests. In December 2005, a joint venture between ONGC and state-run China National Petroleum Corp. successfully bid for a stake in Petro-Canada’s oil field in Syria.

China has been increasingly assertive in trying to secure energy assets. It recently put pressure on neighboring Vietnam and on Exxon Mobil Corp. over an oil-exploration project in the South China Sea.

Yet China has had its share of setbacks, most notably the collapse of a $18.5 billion bid in 2005 by China National Offshore Oil Corp., known as Cnooc, to buy Unocal Corp., in the face of U.S. political resistance. Sinopec and Cnooc also failed two years before that to acquire stakes in the enormous offshore Kashagan field in Kazakhstan.

More recently, China has succeeded in extending its reach by taking a more benign approach. Cnooc unit China Oilfield Services Ltd. last month launched a $2.5 billion friendly takeover of a Norwegian oilfield services provider, Awilco Offshore ASA.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much Sinopec or ONGC is offering for Imperial Energy. Based on Imperial Energy’s closing price Friday of 1,074 pence a share, it has a market capitalization of about £1.1 billion ($2.2 billion). On Monday, Imperial Energy rose 8% to 1,160 pence.

“I don’t know at what price Sinopec would be bidding, but it is a possibility that ONGC may revise its bid,” said Sudeep Anand, a Mumbai-based associate vice president with financial-services firm Religare Securities Ltd. Imperial Energy said there could be no certainty that any offer would be made for the company.

A deal would add to either ONGC’s or Sinopec’s existing Russian holdings. Imperial Energy operates a cluster of oil fields in the Tomsk region of western Siberia, which it said in a filing earlier this year holds proven and probable reserves totaling 920 million barrels of oil and gas equivalent.

Imperial Energy produced an average of 10,000 barrels of oil a day at the end of 2007. Last year, it said it wanted to raise production to 25,000 barrels daily by the end of this year. The company’s output slipped to 7,000 barrels a day in the first quarter, but it blamed “technical and logistics issues” and maintained its daily production target of 25,000 barrels by year end.

Sinopec is a minority partner with OAO Rosneft in two smaller Russian projects. The Chinese company’s oil-equivalent reserves in Russia equal about 540 million barrels as of Jan. 1, 2009, said Paul Fieldsend, an analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie in Edinburgh. ONGC controls 20% of the Sakhalin-1 project led by Exxon Mobil in eastern Russia.

Russia’s oil and gas fields have proved treacherous for other foreign investors. When Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced that costs at the Sakhalin-2 project had nearly doubled, Russian environmental regulators bombarded it with complaints until Shell sold a majority stake in the project to a Kremlin-run gas company in 2006. BP PLC is now embroiled in a bitter dispute with local shareholders in its largest Russian investment, a joint venture called TNK-BP Ltd.

–Aries Poon and Rick Carew contributed to this article.

Write to Bruce Stanley at [email protected], Nisha Gopalan at [email protected] and Jackie Range at[email protected]

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