Only One Bidder for Massive Brazilian Offshore Oil Field

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You would think that the auction of an oil field with as much as 15 billion barrels of oil in place would attract a lot of attention. Well it did attract some demonstrations against giving Brazil’s assets away to foreign players, but it did not attract many bidders. In fact, just one, although five companies teamed up to make the bid.

The Libra field, as it is known, cost the winning consortium an upfront signing bonus of $7 billion in exchange for a 35-year contract to develop the massive field. Brazil’s state oil company, Petroleos Brasileiro S.A. (NYSE: PBR), known as Petrobras, gets 40% of the action and is the operator of the field. Total S.A. (NYSE: TOT) and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RDS-A) each took 20%, and two Chinese oil firms, Cnooc Ltd. (NYSE: CEO) and China National Petroleum, each got 10%.

By law the Brazilian government will receive 41.65% of the oil produced after costs of production are paid. And those costs will be just as massive as the reserves. The reservoir lies under 6,600 feet of water and another 16,500 feet of sea floor in what is known as the pre-salt layer. Production costs for wells at this depth run into tens of millions of dollars. Drill rigs alone command a rental price of as much as $600,000 a day.

The high development costs, Brazilian legal requirements and the large payout to the government are likely to have kept other bidders on the sidelines. Those, and a large upfront payment virtually guaranteed that no single company would want to take the risk without some partners.

Petrobras shares closed up about 4.6% on Monday, at $16.24 in a 52-week range of $12.03 to $23.05.

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