Cnooc (TSX: CNU) has paused a planned sale of its UK North Sea portfolio, which could have been valued at as much as $3 billion in a deal, according to people familiar with the matter.
Initial offers failed to meet the Chinese oil giant’s expectations for the business, the people said, asking not to be identified as the information is private. While the deal has been put on hold for now, Cnooc could resume a sale once conditions improve, the people said.
A representative for Cnooc didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
China’s biggest offshore oil and gas driller was reviewing its overseas options and looking to a potential sale for its UK portfolio, Bloomberg News reported last year. It is the operator of Buzzard oil field, one of the UK’s highest-producing fields, where it has a 43.2% stake. It’s also an operating partner in the Golden Eagle field, with a 36.5% holding, and has interests in the Scott, Telford and Rochelle fields, according to its website.
Chinese companies have been offloading their overseas purchases after Beijing put a tighter leash following the implosion of the likes of HNA Group Co. and Anbang Insurance Group Co. Foreign governments have also imposed more scrutiny on Chinese operators of key assets such as infrastructure and energy, citing national security concerns. However, some of these sales have been hurt by the economic pain inflicted by the pandemic, while some owners refuse to divest at lower valuations.
Discussions about a potential sale of Global Switch Holdings have nearly ground to a halt amid tightening financing conditions and lower-than-expected bids for the London-based data center, Bloomberg News reported earlier this month. Deal talks between Global Switch’s Chinese owners and prospective bidders aren’t moving forward as the parties have been unable to bridge a significant value gap from the initial $10 billion sought by the sellers, people familiar with the matter have said.
Cnooc is one of the largest remaining international explorers in the North Sea after firms including Exxon Mobil and Chevron sold projects to focus on more profitable ones. Shell is also selling its stakes in a group of North Sea oil fields, Bloomberg News reported in November.
CNOOC holds interests in a number of North Sea assets, including Buzzard – one of the basin’s largest – as well as Golden Eagle, Scott and Telford.
It is thought that Equinor was one the parties interesting in picking up Cnooc’s UK assets, after reports emerged last year that the Norwegian energy giant was mulling an acquisition.
Analysts previously suggested that Harbour Energy, NEO Energy, Waldorf Production and Ithaca Energy could also all be likely contenders, with Buzzard in particular making for an appealing acquisition target.
Major North Sea producers are reassessing their operations as the UK imposed a windfall tax on oil and gas producers to raise funds to help consumers cope with higher prices. Harbour Energy said earlier this month it will cut its 2023 spending plan, while TotalEnergies expects to take a hit of about $1 billion from the UK Energy Profits Levy in 2022.