Nigeria renews three ExxonMobil oil licenses

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria on Friday renewed three shallow water oil licenses jointly operated with ExxonMobil, granting the U.S. energy firm leases of a further 20 years with the option to renew again.

“Today we have reached an agreement on the terms of new leases that will go on for a further 20 years with an option to renew,” Minister of State for Petroleum Odein Ajumogobia told reporters in the capital Abuja.

Western oil firms including Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron operate in Nigeria through joint ventures with state oil firm NNPC.

The three licenses -- OML 67, 68 and 70 -- are currently producing 580,000 barrels per day of oil and include the Oso, Ekpe, Edop and Ubit fields. They originally expired in November 2008 and were first given to Exxon in 1968.

“We certainly have with our partner NNPC a very aggressive capital investment program that we perceive continuing to develop and grow the production reserves for these three leases,” said Mark Ward, Exxon’s managing director in Nigeria.

Industry executives have said in recent months that the contract renewal negotiations between Nigeria and its Western oil partners have been difficult, with China also seeking to gain a stronger foothold in Africa’s top energy industry.

Chinese state energy firm CNOOC in September identified 23 licenses in Nigeria in which it would like to buy stakes, including 16 operated by Shell, Chevron and Exxon which expired last November and were up for renewal.

Chevron and Exxon won a year’s extension, while Shell successfully sought a court injunction last November allowing it to continue to operate. The Anglo-Dutch firm is still in talks with the Nigerian government over its license renewals.

Ajumogobia said in September that China had made a proposal to buy 6 billion barrels of Nigeria’s crude oil reserves and that Nigeria could sell its own stakes in joint ventures with Western oil firms to help Beijing do so.

“There was never any consideration of selling or trading one firm for another,” he said on Friday at the joint news conference with Exxon, but added:

“NNPC has a right to relinquish any part of its equity to any third party that expresses interest and it is in that regard that the discussions with the Chinese have been carrying on.”

Reporting by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Editing by Keiron Henderson