Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Carlos Slim’s Grupo Carso SAB agreed to acquire a 70 percent stake in Geoprocesados SA’s Tabasco Oil Co., gaining access to the Colombian oil market as the country seeks to boost crude and natural-gas output.
Tabasco has a contract to explore and produce oil in a field in eastern Colombia called LLA 56, according to a statement released late yesterday by Mexico City-based Grupo Carso. No financial details of the transaction were given.
Slim is seeking to boost oil investments in Colombia because of the country’s open policies on exploration, he said earlier this month in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. Ecopetrol SA, the Colombian state-owned oil company, aims to double output by 2020, and the nation is also seeking to attract overseas producers to develop oil deposits.
“Investors see there is greater safety,” Natalia Agudelo, a Medellin-based analyst at Celfin Capital SA, said in a telephone interview. “The government also has made the rules of the game very clear. Colombia is consolidating its exploration phase so it can be a player in the oil market.”
Investors are being drawn to Colombia because of improved security as well as a clear government regulatory framework for drilling, Agudelo said today. Military offenses reduced attacks on pipelines, roadways and bridges to 76 in 2009 from more than 800 in 2002, according to government figures.
Tabasco is in the exploration stage of drilling in LLA 56, Carso said. The company won rights in a state-run auction last year by pledging to invest $5.8 million in exploration at the site near the Venezuelan border and cede ownership of 1 percent of eventual production to the government, according to the state-run National Hydrocarbons Agency.
Carso, a Mexico City-based holding company that also owns retail stores and industrial manufacturers, rose 1.29 pesos, or 3.6 percent, to 37.21 pesos at 4:10 p.m. New York time in Mexico City trading, the biggest gain since Jan. 27. Slim holds 79 percent of Carso. The group’s construction unit supplies drilling and oil-platform services to Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil producer.
Closely held Geoprocesados, based in Villahermosa, Mexico, has offices in Houston and Buenos Aires and will open one shortly in Bogota, according to its website. A representative of the company wasn’t immediately available today to comment.
Slim, 71, also has invested in U.S. oil-services companies Bronco Drilling Co. and Allis-Chalmers Energy Inc. His America Movil SAB had 29.4 million mobile-phone subscribers in its unit serving Colombia and Panama at the end of last year.
Carso’s oil services unit reported sales in the third quarter of 611 million pesos ($50.4 million), down 38 percent from the same period in 2009, because of delays in Pemex contract awards and lower sales volume for pipes. The division is part of Carso’s construction unit, Carso Infraestructura y Construccion SAB, or Cicsa, which also has its own shares listed on Mexico’s stock market.
Oil services represented 18 percent of Cicsa’s total sales in the third quarter. The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results on Feb. 25.
The Colombia investment is Carso’s first oil project outside of Mexico. In 2009, Cicsa paid $30 million to buy a 60 percent stake in Bronco Drilling’s Mexican unit, creating a joint venture to sell oil and gas drilling services.
Slim controls a 15 percent stake in Bronco, with warrants that could boost the stake to 20 percent. He also has a 2.9 percent stake in Allis-Chalmers, based in Houston. The company said Feb. 21 that it expects to close its planned sale to Seawell Ltd. today, pending shareholder approval.
Tabasco’s block is in an area known as Los Llanos, where companies including Ecopetrol, Colombia’s largest oil company, already produce crude. Companies set to search for crude in nearby blocks include a unit of France’s Perenco SA, Ecopetrol, Stetson Oil and Gas Ltd. Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista’s OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA also won exploration rights in last year’s government auction.