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Chevron to auction rights to 2 Nigeria oil blocks

Chevron Corp. says it will auction off rights to 2 Nigeria oil blocks as others companies sell

Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Chevron Corp. said Tuesday it wants to auction off the rights it has to two offshore oil fields near Nigeria's coast, the latest foreign oil company moving to divest from the country as regulatory uncertainty looms in the nation.

The company identified the two blocks as shallow-water fields near the coast of Nigeria's Bayelsa state, which sits in the country's oil-rich Niger Delta. The company did not disclose what the estimated oil and gas reserves were for the fields, which include the Anyala, Ato North and Madu plays.

Chevron described the sell-off as part of its Nigerian subsidiary's "continuous process of portfolio evaluation and business prioritization." The company offered no other details.

The San Ramon, California-based oil company said it produced some 238,000 barrels of crude oil a day in 2012, one of the major foreign firms operating in Nigeria's oil industry. Its holdings also include interest in natural gas production in the country.

Chevron has a 40 percent interest in the stakes up for auction, with the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. holding the majority 60 percent. The Nigerian government would have to approve any potential sell-off.

The sites Chevron wants to sell off are near the offshore field where Chevron had a gas rig explode in January 2012, killing two workers.

Oil money provides about 80 percent of Nigeria's government funding, which trickles down to states that have budgets greater than those of surrounding nations. But the corruption that pervades the nation often sees that money go into political leaders' pockets rather than toward government services.

For years, Nigerian lawmakers have been debating passing the Petroleum Industry Bill, a sweeping overhaul of how Africa's most populous nation deals with oil revenues and foreign firms. Analysts say the bill, if passed, would sharply reduce the profits of foreign companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil Corp., Eni SpA, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Total SA.

While the bill remains under discussion, some firms have pulled back on announcing new projects. Others have begun selling off stakes in some fields. In November, Total announced it sold an offshore oil stake for $2.5 billion to Chinese state oil company Sinopec Corp. Shell, the dominant oil company in the country, also announced in June 2012 it would try to sell of stakes it had in three fields as well, as its management has suggested slowly pulling back from Nigeria.

Nigeria produces more than 2 million barrels of oil a day and remains key to U.S. gasoline supplies.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .

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