China's CNOOC steps up Western retreat with launch of U.S. sale - sources

China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing
The logo of China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is seen at its booth during the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, China September 1, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Lo/File Photo

Nov 23 (Reuters) - Chinese oil and gas major CNOOC (0883.HK), has sounded out potential buyers of its interests in U.S. oilfields, two sources said, stepping up its retreat from Western nations amid sanctions concerns and calls for domestic investment.

Reuters reported in April that CNOOC was considering an exit from its operations in Britain, Canada and the United States, because of concerns in Beijing that those assets could become subject to Western sanctions, owing to China's refusal to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Beijing is also stepping up efforts to boost energy security, requiring CNOOC and others to raise domestic production and invest in new, more costly and challenging resources to help arrest fast-depleting reserves in existing conventional oilfields.

CNOOC has hired JPMorgan to advise it on a potential exit from its interests in U.S. shale gas assets, which could raise around $2 billion, the sources familiar with the matter said.

The sources cautioned that a sale was not guaranteed, and CNOOC could still retain these interests if it did not receive suitable offers or political situations changed swiftly. They requested anonymity as the sale plans are confidential.

CNOOC and JPMorgan declined to comment.

In the United States, CNOOC owns interests in the onshore Eagle Ford and Rockies shale basins as well as stakes in two large offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico: Appomattox and Stampede.

The Chinese major is in talks with British oil and gas producer Harbour Energy (HBR.L) for the sale of the Gulf of Mexico assets, two other sources familiar with the talks said.

Harbour Energy declined to comment.

In the Eagle Ford basin of south Texas, CNOOC's stake is in oil and gas assets owned by U.S. shale driller Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK.O). While Chesapeake has itself put those assets up for sale, any decision there is not expected to impact CNOOC's plans, one of the sources said.

CNOOC, which last month reported a near doubling in third-quarter profit from a year earlier on soaring oil prices, acquired the bulk of its U.S. and other Western holdings less than a decade ago via the $15 billion purchase of Canada's Nexen, a deal that transformed the Chinese champion into a leading global producer.

CNOOC has also been looking for a buyer of its stake in British North Sea oilfields, Reuters reported in March. Norway's Equinor (EQNR.OL) is said to be considering buying the stakes in a deal valued between 20 billion and 30 billion Norwegian crowns ($2-3 billion).

($1 = 9.9614 Norwegian crowns)

Reporting by Shariq Khan and Ron Bousso Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu and David French Editing by Mark Potter

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Ron has covered since 2014 the world’s top oil and gas companies, focusing on their efforts to shift into renewables and low carbon energy and the sector's turmoil during the COVID-19 pandemic and following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He has been named Reporter of the Year in 2014 and 2021 by Reuters. Before Reuters, Ron reported on equity markets in New York in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis after covering conflict and diplomacy in the Middle East for AFP out of Israel.