NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A trio of state-run Indian oil companies has bid $5 billion for stakes in Canadian oil sands holdings owned by ConocoPhillips (COP.N), two sources said, as the world's No. 4 oil importer continues to search for supplies to power its near $2 trillion economy.
The bid from the group, which comprises producers Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.NS) and Oil India Ltd (OILI.NS) with refiner and retailer Indian Oil Corp (IOC.NS), is the first for by Indian energy companies for assets in Canada.
It comes as India, which imports about 80 percent of its near 4 million barrels per day (bpd) oil needs, cuts purchases from major supplier Iran to secure a waiver from U.S. sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"We have bid along with Oil India and Indian Oil Corp," a source at ONGC Videsh, the overseas investment arm of ONGC, told reporters on Monday. A source at Oil India said the bid was submitted at the end of July.
In January, ConocoPhillips put stakes in six Alberta properties on the auction block. They produce 12,000 barrels of oil a day from an estimated 30 billion barrels of bitumen.
The one producing project in the package is Surmont, run in a joint venture with France's Total SA (TOTF.PA). Located south of the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta, the steam-driven development pumps about 25,000 barrels per day. The partners are working to boost that to 136,000 bpd, starting in 2015.
ConocoPhillips declined to comment on the bid from the Indian firms, the timing for announcing the results of the auction, or the overall level of interest. "We do not comment on market rumors," spokeswoman Davy Kong said.
ONGC Chairman Sudhir Vasudeva said on Tuesday the company had not yet made a bid but continued to look at international opportunities.
The New Delhi government has told state firms to secure energy assets overseas as the country's own output is well below the needs of its demand in an economy expected to grow 6.5 percent this year and already suffering hefty power shortfalls.
But attempts to secure assets have not been very fruitful, even though there is ample cash available.
International Coal Ventures Limited (ICVL), a consortium of state-run companies including Steel Authority of India (SAIL.NS) and Coal India (COAL.NS), has struggled to buy a single asset in the three years since its inception.
Its poor M&A track record mainly stems from bureaucratic sloth as well as differences among the consortium members over ownership issues, said several banking sources who have previously worked with the state-run companies.
"In any well-run auction process, Indian state-run companies will be at a disadvantage because they are not very efficient and don't move fast enough," said a resources M&A banker with a European bank in Mumbai.
"When you are a consortium of state-run firms, the entire process becomes very chaotic," he said. "But energy security is a big theme for India and one good thing is there are not too many buyers for these assets due to global economic conditions."
In February, ONGC and state-run gas transportation company GAIL India Ltd (GAIL.NS) said they were looking at an offer for Britain's Cove Energy COVE.L but after three months of silence dropped the idea.
On their own, Indian energy companies have likewise had little success in closing large overseas acquisitions and tended to focus on individual deals.
ONGC Videsh, which is expected to contribute about 46 percent of group production by financial year 2030 with investment of $20 billion, has stakes in 30 projects in 15 countries including producing assets in Sudan, South Sudan, Vietnam, Syria, Russia, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.
It recently bought a 2.7 percent stake of Hess (HES.N) in the large Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli (ACG) group of oil fields in Azerbaijan.
Foreign state-owned firms are increasingly looking at Canada's tar sands, the world's third-largest crude source. The Indian interest follows a $15.1 billion bid for Calgary-based Nexen Inc NXY.TO by CNOOC Ltd (0883.HK), the Chinese state-owned oil company.
The other properties in the ConocoPhillips package are assets known as Thornbury, Clyden, Saleski, Crow Lake, McMillan Lake. The land totals 715,000 acres.
Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Henry Foy in Mumbai and Jeffrey Jones in Calgary; Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Alex Richardson