Shell resumes talks to sell stake in Nigerian oil, natural gas fields

William Clowes and Laura Hurst, Bloomberg July 31, 2023

(Bloomberg) – Shell Plc has resumed talks to sell its stake in a joint venture that operates onshore and shallow-water oil and natural gas fields in Nigeria to local firm ND Western Ltd. about a year after the process was put on ice, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The energy giant said in June 2022 that it was pausing the divestment of its 30% interest in the partnership with Eni SpA, TotalEnergies SE and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Co. Ltd., which is known as SPDC, pending the outcome of a lawsuit at the West African country’s Supreme Court. A lower court had earlier ordered Shell not to sell any assets before the dispute with a community in the crude-rich Niger Delta over alleged pollution is resolved.

Sale talks have resumed with ND Western in recent weeks and significant progress has been made, but there’s no certainty a transaction will be agreed or could proceed, the people said. The court order for SPDC to maintain the status quo remains in place, and judges at Nigeria’s top court are currently in their summer vacation.

Shell declined to comment on any talks but reiterated its intention to reduce involvement in onshore oil production in Nigeria, while retaining in its deepwater and natural gas positions in the country. The company said it respects the judiciary and takes the court order seriously.

ND Western declined to comment.

Shell announced its intention to sell the stake in 2021, saying its long-term energy transition strategy was incompatible with Nigerian operations. Then-Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden told shareholders that a significant increase in sabotage in recent years had resulted in a state of near-lawlessness that the company couldn’t control.

The stake had attracted interest from local producers including ND Western, Heirs Oil and Gas Ltd., Seplat Energy Plc and Sahara Group Ltd. before Shell paused the sale process, Bloomberg reported last year.

Since then, Nigeria has a new president, Bola Tinubu, who took office in late May. Advisers to the leader prepared a report in the run-up to his inauguration recommending that his administration “close out” outstanding divestments being sought by international oil producers in order to boost petroleum output.

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