September 21, 2020

BP and Rosneft Agree to Extend Deadline for Deal

LONDON — BP gained a last-minute respite Thursday in its desperate bid to salvage an Arctic drilling deal with the Russian oil company Rosneft, as the companies agreed to extend a deadline for the talks for another month.

The talks, on a share swap that is part of the deal for joint exploration and development of potential oil fields on the Russian Arctic continental shelf, had been set to expire Thursday. BP’s plans to expand its Russian presence in concert with Rosneft hit a wall with the opposition of the billionaire shareholders in its existing Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.

BP’s partners in TNK-BP took legal steps to block the Rosneft agreement, valued at about $7.8 billion, because they said it violated terms of their own venture with BP in Russia.

BP’s options to rescue the deal have diminished over the last month after the quarrel with TNK-BP shareholders reached an arbitration court, which has delayed the Rosneft agreement indefinitely.

BP said it would “continue with the arbitration process to obtain a final award on all outstanding issues, including whether or not the interim injunction should continue.” The TNK-BP partners rejected an earlier attempt by BP to reach a compromise.

Adding to the pressure on BP, its chief executive, Robert W. Dudley, is expected to face some angry investors at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in London on Thursday. Some investors, including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, have already said they would voice their disapproval of how BP handled the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Now, Mr. Dudley is also likely to face criticism for failing to anticipate serious opposition in Russia to the Rosneft deal.

“I want a quick resolution,” George Godber, a fund manager at Matterley in London and a BP investor, said Wednesday.

Mr. Godber said he had welcomed the initial agreement with Rosneft but that the subsequent problems had damaged BP’s and Mr. Dudley’s reputations. “It’s a millstone and it’s hung poorly,” he said.

Mr. Dudley was betting the Rosneft deal, which the companies agreed to in January, would give BP a new growth opportunity after the rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico made business more difficult in the United States.

Instead, BP’s legal battle with its Russian partners have raised larger questions about the British oil company’s future in the country, the largest oil producer in the world.

One option to rescue the deal with Rosneft could be for BP to allow TNK-BP to take its place in the share swap and exploration agreement. That would reduce BP’s potential profit but would still give the company access to the sought-after Arctic exploration licenses through its joint venture.

Or perhaps BP could simply walk away from a linkup with Rosneft. But competition for access to Russia’s offshore oil reserves is fierce, analysts say, and it would not be long before Rosneft could find a new partner in Royal Dutch Shell, Total or other oil giants.

BP could also try ending its dispute in Russia by buying the stake in TNK-BP it does not already own. But the half of that joint venture is estimated to be worth more than $25 billion, a large sum for BP at a time when it is still paying for costs related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Another option would be for BP to sell its stake in TNK-BP. Investors see that as less likely because TNK-BP contributes about a third of BP’s overall production, and its dividends have been an important source of income.

Some analysts said there might be more at stake with the Rosneft deal than BP’s Russian operation. A 29 percent drop in BP’s share price since the Gulf of Mexico accident, and a smaller but more lucrative portfolio of assets after recent disposals, could leave BP vulnerable to takeover offers from larger rivals, they said.

David Jolly contributed reporting from Paris.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2cf0303f2ef13874aa14fedc873ce345

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