After all the years of trauma and hurt, CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) has returned to the United States.
You’ll remember back in 2005, when the Chinese state-owned oil company launched an ambitious $18.5 billion bid for Unocal, the El Segundo-based oil major.
Despite being hugely confident, the bid ended in disaster after it stirred America’s delicate and protectionist sensibilities. The Chinese company even promised that it didn’t want any of Unocal’s US oilfields – it was more interested in its South East Asian assets – but to no avail.
American politicians forced a sale of Unocal to Chevron, citing strategic concerns. The Chinese, to be fair, messed up their end of the deal too, hiring poor lobbyists in Washington and failing to put forward an unbeatable bid even though they had plenty of cash to spend.
Fast forward four years and there was a small announcement today that CNOOC has purchased an undisclosed number of leases in the Gulf of Mexico from Statoil, the Norwegian company.
"On 29 October Statoil signed a farm down agreement with the Chinese company CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) involving a number of Statoil’s leases in Gulf of Mexico," Statoil said in its Q3 statement. The company gave no further details, but a spokesman said the size of the deal was "very small".
So what is CNOOC up to? Most Gulf of Mexico fields are in decline and the oil is difficult to extract. What CNOOC is actually gaining is a valuable opportunity to reassure the American public that there is no yellow peril involved in selling oilfields to the Chinese.
That way, when a decent opportunity comes up for the company, it can cite its good record in the Gulf of Mexico and point out that there has been a precedent for a Chinese company owning US assets, albeit a small one. It’s a smart move, PR-wise, and it’s clear that CNOOC, and by extension the Chinese government, has learned its lessons from Unocal.