BY CHIKA IZUORA, Lagos
Italian firm, Eni, is considering more oil and gas operations in Nigeria and other West Africa and the Middle East countries to help reduce debt.
The move is also to fund its shift to low-carbon energy, according to company and industry sources.
Africa’s biggest foreign oil and gas producer, Eni has prize assets in Nigeria, Congo and Angola. It has big production centres in Egypt and Libya, has rapidly built a presence in the Gulf and is looking to grow in Asia, said reuters.
The move is part of a major overhaul the company launched last year as it transitions into renewables and a gradual tapering of oil and gas output.
Eni aims to replicate the success of its 2019 oil and gas spin-off in Norway, where it formed joint venture Var Energi with private equity firm HitecVision and retains a 69.6 per cent stake.
That created Norway’s second largest oil and gas producer after acquiring Exxon Mobil’s portfolio there for $4.5 billion, giving it production of about 150,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
The investment has been highly profitable, paying Eni nearly $1.3 billion euros in dividends since its creation.
“The company is working on doing more of the same (as Var) with chosen partners in West Africa and the Near-Far East and Far East,” a source said without giving further detail.
Creating a separate entity will allow Eni to shift some of its debt, which rose last year to 26.7 billion euros ($32.2 billion), off its balance sheet given it will no longer be consolidated at group level,” the sources said.
With lower debt, Eni hopes to raise new capital to build its renewables and low-carbon business which will form the backbone of the future company.
Eni has recently held talks with several large oil and gas producers including BP and Total to merge parts of their operations in West Africa and the Middle East, sources told Reuters.
Eni, BP and Total all declined to comment. BP and Total face challenges similar to Eni’s in terms of managing debt and low-carbon emissions but it remains unclear if the talks will be successful, the sources said.
Europe’s top energy companies were forced to raise record amounts of debt after oil and gas demand cratered in the wake of the pandemic.
Eni chief financial officer, Francesco Gattei, in February told analysts that there are opportunities in business combinations like Var Energi to remove debt from Eni’s balance sheet.
“We aim to replicate our Norwegian Var model in different countries, with potential business combinations which are currently under screening,” Gattei said at the time.