UPDATE 5-Statoil sells $3.25 bln gas pipeline stake
* Statoil to keep 5 pct stake in Gassled
* Norway says security of supply not endangered by deal
* Buyer owned by Canada Pension Plan, Allianz, Abu Dhabi
* Sale part of Statoil's streamlining drive, follows Exxon
* Total says eyeing sale of its Gassled stake (Adds comment from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board)
By Wojciech Moskwa and Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, June 6 (Reuters) - Norwegian energy giant Statoil (STL.OL) agreed to sell a 24.1 percent stake in a European natural gas transport venture to a group including German insurer Allianz (ALVG.DE) and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for 17.35 billion crowns ($3.25 billion).
Statoil will retain a 5 percent stake in Gassled, the owner of gas pipelines and processing facilities on the Norwegian shelf, which last year piped about 100 billion cubic metres of gas to Britain, Germany, Belgium and France.
That amounts to some 16-17 percent of European Union annual gas consumption and is second in size only to Russian imports.
"We believe we can use our competence elsewhere with a higher return on our investment," Statoil said, adding that the after-tax profit from the deal amounted to 9 billion crowns.
Last year, ExxonMobil (XOM.N) sold its 8 percent Gassled stake to an infrastructure fund as oil firms shed non-core assets and allowed financial investors to tap into the steady margins of the European energy infrastructure business.
Total (TOTF.PA) is also seeking to sell its 6.43 percent stake, the French firm told Reuters on Monday.
The British gas market, the liveliest for Norwegian gas, showed no reaction, underlining market belief that the ongoing shift from industrial to financial Gassled owners would not lead to any deterioration in the security or reliability of supplies.
Norway's government echoed such sentiment, with Deputy Energy Minister Per Rune Henriksen telling Reuters: "We will still have full control of the infrastructure and the effectiveness of the pipeline system." [ID:nWEB5789]
THE LONG TERM AND DIVERSIFICATION
The buyer of Statoil's stake in Gassled is Solveig Gas Norway AS, a holding 45 percent owned by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and 30 percent by Allianz Capital Partners, a subsidiary of Europe's biggest insurer Allianz SE.
The remaining 25 percent is held by Infinity Investments SA, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. The deal still needs approval from Norwegian authorities.
By retaining a stake in Gassled, Statoil will remain "part of the decision-making process," the Norwegian firm said.
Carnegie analyst John Olaisen said the move was "positive" and pricing in line with what ExxonMobil received in 2010.
Statoil shares rose 0.5 percent to 137 crowns at 1230 GMT, against a steady STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index .SXEP. Allianz has said it sees energy infrastructure as a good investment because the long lifetime of the asset matches well with the group's long-term insurance liabilities, and because there is no correlation with financial market risks.
The insurer has also invested more than 1 billion euros in renewable energy projects since 2005. The Gassled stake is Allianz Capital Partners' largest transaction in years.
An Allianz spokesman declined to comment on the deal, which Reuters reported citing sources four weeks ago. [ID:nLDE7481SC]
SECURITY OF SUPPLIES
Nick Campbell, UK gas market analyst at consultancy Inenco, said that even if financial institutions gain sway in Gassled, they will still have to abide by strict Norwegian regulations.
"It is in the owners' interest to keep gas flowing in order to guarantee revenue," Campbell said. "Potentially, the cost of running the pipelines will fall given when one brings in private investment they will search for ways to increase competition amongst maintenance suppliers, etc. So it may lead to lower input costs and therefore greater investment."
A Total spokesman told Reuters that the company was "engaged" in a sale process of its entire Gassled stake.
"This forms part of the optimisation of our portfolio as we consider that this type of stake is not part of our core business, which is investment in exploration and production," the spokesman said, declining to give details or a timetable.
The deal comes two years after ExxonMobil, as well as other foreign minority Gassled owners including Total, Shell (RDSa.L), ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and Eni (ENI.MI), accused Norway of giving too much power in Gassled to firms it has influence over.
Until this deal is finalised, more than 70 percent of Gassled remains in the hands of state-owned Petoro and Statoil, which the foreign companies said made it tough for them to affect decision-making on pipelines and access to new fields.
A CPPIB executive told Reuters on Monday the pension fund administrator might look at boosting its stake in Gassled but that it was not involved in the Total sale process.
"We have due-diliginced this thing for the past 10 weeks and have a very good understanding, so if more becomes available we might be interested in expanding our holding in the asset," said CPPIB's senior vice-president for private investments, Andre Bourbonnais.
Norway's gas transport system is operated by Gassco. It consists of 7,975 km of pipelines and two major gas processing plants on the Norwegian coast -- Kaarstoe and Kollsnes.
Last year Gassco, fully owned by Gassled, earned 27.24 billion crowns in gross tariffs. It spent a total of 10 billion on operations, investments and other "major projects," it said.
Morgan Stanley (MS.N) advised Statoil on the transaction and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch (BAC.N) advised the buyers.
($1=5.38 Norwegian crowns) (Additional reporting by Karolin Schaps and Victoria Howley in London, Jonathan Gould in Frankfurt, Christian Kraemer in Munich and Pav Jordan in Toronto, Editing by Jason Neely)
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