China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., seeking to reverse a decline in oil reserves, is close to buying stakes in Nigerian onshore oil blocks from Total SA, for about $2.4 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Sinopec, as the state-backed Chinese refiner is known, has signed a preliminary deal to acquire the stakes, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the agreement has not been made public.
China’s state-backed energy companies are seeking new oil and gas reserves abroad to feed the world’s second-largest economy, especially from regions like Africa where government scrutiny is lighter than in North America or Europe. Sinopec has also approached the French oil firm Etablissements Maurel et Prom, which operates in Gabon, about an acquisition, people familiar with the matter said this month.
“We like the potential upstream asset acquisition in Nigeria because it could help Sinopec replenish its dwindling oil reserves and improve the firm’s overall profit margin amid sustained high oil prices in the long term,” said Gordon Kwan, Hong Kong-based head of energy research at Mirae Asset Securities Ltd.
Total, Europe’s third-biggest oil company, is seeking to divest $15 billion to $20 billion of assets from 2012 to 2014 in order to raise cash for oil and gas projects. Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie has said most of that will come from the exploration and production division.
A Total official in Paris declined to comment. A spokesman for Sinopec was not immediately available for comment.
Total gained 0.1 percent to close at 38.89 euros in Paris trading yesterday. Sinopec lost 0.2 percent to HK$8.20 at 10:20 a.m. in Hong Kong today.
Nigeria was tied with Norway last year as Total’s biggest source of hydrocarbons, accounting for 287,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, or about 12 percent of the total. The company plans to pump 3 million barrels a day of oil and gas in 2017.
Total’s asset-sale target, announced during an annual investor conference in London last month, compares with $15 billion of “finalized” sales in 2010 and 2011, according to figures given in February. A portion of these came from the divestment of shares in French drugmaker Sanofi.
Total has quickened the pace of deals in recent years as part of a policy to “actively manage” its portfolio of exploration acreage, refineries and pipelines around the world. The Paris-based company agreed last year to sell its stake in the Norwegian Gassled pipeline system, while de Margerie has said he’s studying a sale of the TIGF network in southern France. Total also sold a stake in a Spanish oil refiner and tried to sell the Lindsey refinery in the U.K.
Sinopec’s reserves of crude oil declined from 3.3 billion barrels in 2007 to 2.8 billion barrels at the end of last year, enough for nine years of production at 2011 levels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its parent, China Petrochemical, said in January that it will seek to produce 50 million metric tons of crude a year overseas by 2015. Last year, foreign production was 23 million tons.
China Petrochemical bought Addax Petroleum Corp. in 2009, adding reserves in Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.