Statoil to Prioritize Recent Finds Over Acquiring Explorers

Statoil ASA, Norway’s largest oil and gas producer, said recent discoveries reduced the appeal of buying an exploration company as it responded to reports that it’s searching for takeover targets.

“If you look at our resource base today, buying an exploration company isn’t highest on our agenda,” Chief Executive Officer Helge Lund said in an interview in London. “That’s not a priority for us.”

Speculation that state-controlled Statoil will bid for a competitor has followed suggestions among Norwegian politicians that they may dilute the government’s 67 percent stake in the company. Statoil is studying overseas acquisitions to diversify away from Norway, people with knowledge of the matter said last month, citing the U.K.’s Tullow Oil Plc among potential targets.

“I have the best exploration team,” Lund said today. “With the resource base we have, the main focus is to advance that in a value-creating way.”

Statoil, which has been expanding abroad and into shale oil and gas, has found 3.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the past three years in fields from Norway to Tanzania. The Stavanger-based company was the industry’s most successful explorer last year, discovering more conventional resources than any of its competitors, according to a company presentation.

Statoil rose as much as 5.4 percent today in Oslo after announcing plans to increase cash flow and shareholder returns. The stock was up 5 percent at 156.5 kroner as of 3:45 p.m. local time. Tullow traded down 3.4 percent at 833.5 pence in London, after climbing 8.6 percent the past two days.

Lund said today that Statoil will continue to study certain acquisitions just as it considers exploration opportunities and the sale and purchase of specific assets. The CEO declined to comment on particular companies.

George Cazenove, a spokesman for Tullow, also declined to comment on takeover speculation this week.

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