JIM KENNETT / STEVEN BODZIN
September 14, 2007
Exxon Mobil had been in talks with authorities since walking away from its Cerro Negro operations in June, when foreign oil companies were ordered to sign over stakes in specific ventures.
Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, filed for arbitration in a dispute over assets seized by the Venezuelan government.
The Irving, Texas-based company's 41.7 percent stake in the heavy oil project had a net-book value of about $750 million at the time of the expropriation, according to a regulatory filing Thursday. The company said it requested arbitration Sept. 6 with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, claiming a fight against imperialism, took control in May of four ventures that turn tar-like crude into about 600,000 barrels of synthetic oil a day. He forced foreign oil producers to give state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela at least 60 percent ownership in each venture.
''Exxon Mobil has worked with the Venezuelan government to reach an agreement regarding compensation based on the fair market value of the assets,'' Exxon Mobil spokesman Len D'Eramo said in an e-mailed statement. ``We are disappointed these discussions have not been successful.''
Exxon Mobil remains willing ''to engage in substantive discussions with the Venezuelan government,'' D'Eramo added in another e-mail.
Exxon Mobil had been in talks with Venezuelan authorities since walking away from its Cerro Negro operations on June 26, the day foreign oil companies were ordered to sign over stakes in their ventures that extract and process crude oil in the Faja del Orinoco. Houston-based ConocoPhillips also refused to sign.
ConocoPhillips spokesman Bill Tanner said his company was continuing negotiations.'
Venezuela is the fourth-largest supplier of oil and refined fuels to the United States, after Mexico and Canada. Its oil fields may have reserves of 270 billion barrels, rivaling Canada's oil sands, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Chávez is in the vanguard of Latin American leaders rewriting contracts and increasing ownership and profits from foreign-run oil fields. Bolivia's Evo Morales seized oil fields in his country last year, and Nicaraguan officials on Aug. 17 seized a fuel-storage terminal owned by Exxon Mobil on grounds that the company owed taxes.
Exxon Mobil's shares rose 71 cents to $87.65 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The regulatory filing was released after the close of regular trading on U.S. stock markets.
''I'm glad to see them do it,'' said Don Hodges, who manages the $700 million Hodges Fund in Dallas, which holds shares of both Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. 'You don't know what the outcome will be, but you'd rather see them resist it than just lay down and say, `Help yourself to it.' ''