Talk of Yukos Sale Names Chevron, Exxon

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Talk of a possible sale of equity in Russian oil giant Yukos to a US major is back on the agenda, after BP concluded its joint venture with Tyumen Oil Co. (TNK). Speculation about a closer US-Russian oil alliance has also been fueled by the current visit by former US President George Bush to Russia, and the planned visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the US on Sep. 25-27. International Oil Daily understands that negotiations between Yukos and international oil majors have been under way for some time. While Yukos insists these talks involve joint projects, industry sources say that the parties have discussed a possible equity acquisition as well. ChevronTexaco is mentioned by industry sources as the most likely to buy a stake in Yukos, although reports Monday also cited Exxon Mobil as a candidate. Yukos is merging with compatriot Sibneft to form Russia's biggest oil company. The completion of the TNK-BP deal has given US companies cause to review their strategy in Russia, analysts say, both to compete with the UK supermajor and to ensure that their interests in Russia are advanced (see p2). Currently, for example, there is no direct US force to lobby for a project to build an oil pipeline from Western Siberia to the deepwater port near Murmansk on the Kola peninsular, for long-haul crude deliveries to the US. There has been no progress on the scheme in the absence of a political decision. The project will be one of the key issues on the agenda of the second Russia-US energy summit in St Petersburg on Sep. 22-23. The two countries' trade and energy ministers will head delegations, which will also include top oil and gas executives. Earlier this month, Peter Robertson, ChevronTexaco's vice chairman in charge of the upstream, told International Oil Daily that his company was considering the BP-TNK venture as a possible model for acquiring oil reserves in Russia, and that acquiring equity in a Russian company is a viable option, provided that the terms are right. But he would not be drawn on rumors that Chevron has been negotiating the purchase of a stake in Yukos. Industry sources say there has been a close courtship between the two companies, while Chevron is also known to have discussed a possible tie-up with TNK before the Russians jumped into bed with BP (IOD Sep.9,p1). Back in 2000, Chevron and Texaco, which were separate companies at the time, showed interest in the development of Yukos' huge Priobskoye oil field in Western Siberia, home to 5 billion bbl of reserves. Last month, there were reports that ChevronTexaco was in preliminary discussion with Yukos to purchase a 25% stake in the Russian producer. Both companies refused to comment at the time (IOD Aug.5,p3). Yukos described the latest round of press reports as "rumors" and again refused to comment. Oil analysts believe the existence of a powerful US equity partner would help protect Yukos from attacks by Russian authorities. Russia's law enforcement agencies have this year launched a number of criminal investigations into Yukos, its shareholders, and its employees. The BP-TNK deal could serve as an example in this instance, too. TNK's shareholders were involved in Russia's murky privatization process, but are now said to feel more secure, as the BP venture was blessed by Putin. Nelli Sharushkina, Moscow

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