Norway's Statoil ASA (NYSE: STO) will evaluate new offshore projects in Mexico, including potential tie-ups with state oil company Pemex, the firm's top executive said, adding that a first deepwater well in an existing Gulf project will likely be drilled next year.
Statoil is focused mostly on future deepwater opportunities in Mexico but does not rule out others, CEO Eldar Saetre said in an interview late on April 12.
The executive, visiting Mexico City with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, said he met with both finance ministry and Pemex officials.
"We will look for further opportunities that might come from ordinary licensing rounds or through portfolio management from Pemex's portfolio," he said, without giving further details.
Statoil, one of the world's largest deepwater operators, won stakes in two Gulf of Mexico projects in Mexican waters at a licensing round in late 2016 with partners BP Plc (NYSE: BP) and Total SA (NYSE: TOT).
Saetre said the first deepwater exploration well at the Statoil-operated Block 3 in the Gulf's Salina Basin will likely be drilled in 2019, adding that company aimed to get into such frontier opportunities "very early."
Two-thirds owned by Norway's government, Statoil has offshore oil and gas projects spread across Latin America, including partnerships with Brazil's state-controlled Petrobras.
Asked why Statoil has entered equity partnerships with Petrobras but not Pemex, Saetre said Brazil has been open to foreign producers much longer.
"It's very early days [in Mexico] when it comes to industrial activities and upstream activities," he said, referring to a Mexican oil sector opening enacted in 2013-2014.
"We relate quite easily to companies like Pemex and understand where they come from, so it's a very good discussion," said Saetre, who has served in various roles at Statoil since 1980.
He downplayed any future political risk of operating in Mexico, which many sector analysts see increasing as the front-runner in the July presidential election, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has pledged to review all contracts and put the oil opening to a public vote.
"Stability and continuity is really important in the industry... but we are here to have dialogues with whoever is in power," Saetre said.
The 2013-14 energy reform ended Pemex's decades-long monopoly and allowed foreign and private producers to operate projects alone for the first time.
While Saetre described the offshore upstream business as most appealing, he said midstream projects, including energy infrastructure, or retail fuel ventures, could be of interest if it helped "unlock" E&P work.
"We might do that," he said. "We've done that in many places, but not in its own right."
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