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Pemex Has Talked With Firms About Working on Projects

MEXICO CITY--Mexico on Wednesday set aside the bulk of its currently active oil fields for Petróleos Mexicanos but said private companies will be allowed to bid on four-fifths of prospective resources as the government ends the national oil firm's seven-decade monopoly. Officials hope that the bidding, starting as soon as next year, will spark an energy boom. Pemex's chief executive said the new competition will help the company, making it more efficient. "Pemex has been waiting for these changes for decades," CEO Emilio Lozoya said in an interview at its headquarters here. "We're committed to making sure that Pemex continues to be not only the largest company in Mexico, but to regain the largest spot in Latin America and be also one of the leaders worldwide." Pemex lost the top spot in Latin America a few years ago to Brazil's Petróleo Brasileiro SA. Revenue for Petrobras was $141 billion last year, compared with $123 billion for Pemex. Such heady talk might seem misplaced coming from a company that is widely regarded as overstaffed, riddled with corruption and has seen its production slide by nearly a million barrels a day over the past decade to a current 2.5 million. But Mr. Lozoya, a 39-year-old former investment banker, said Pemex has plenty of reason to be optimistic. He said Pemex has already talked to hundreds of oil companies about prospective joint ventures and hoped to open the first bids for such tie-ups by the first quarter of next year. "Pemex and its management team are thrilled and very energized," he said. The company will begin life in a competitive market with a major edge. Mexico's government said Pemex would be allowed to keep 83% of the country's proven and probable reserves, which include current oil fields and discoveries awaiting development. It will only keep about a fifth of prospective resources, which include as-yet-undiscovered deposits. Pemex had asked for 31% of prospective resources in its request to the government. The most promising part of fields to be explored for oil, and most appealing to major U.S. oil companies, are in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Pemex has no deep-water production in the Gulf, where major oil companies have been highly successful on the U.S. side of the waterway. The areas up for grabs by private companies include a broad mix, from deep waters to mature fields and nonconventional reserves such as shale gas. The government said it had identified 109 blocks for the first round of bids. It expects investments of around $50 billion over the next four years, including partnerships with Pemex. Juan Carlos Zepeda, president of the National Hydrocarbons Commission, said the goal of the first round of bidding is to give a quick boost to the country's stagnant oil production. The extent and scope of the areas to be offered in the first round show that the government wants to move as quickly as possible and make it as broad as possible, said Tim Samples, a professor at the University of Georgia who follows the Mexican oil sector. "It looks ambitious, I wasn't expecting such a broad array of projects." Pemex's share of proven and probable reserves is around 20.6 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent, or 15.5 years of output at current production levels, said Lourdes Melgar, Mexico's deputy minister for hydrocarbons. Mr. Lozoya, the Pemex chief, said the company likely will invite other oil companies to work on at least 10 big projects to which it has exclusive rights, something it was unable to do under previous laws. Those projects include mature fields and deep-water projects, among others. Exxon Mobil said it welcomed the new announced steps. "We will pursue potential investment opportunities in Mexico that are competitive with other opportunities around the world," said spokesman Patrick McGinn. While it lacks the financing or technology to pursue areas like deep waters, Pemex has a natural advantage in that it knows Mexico's subsoil geography. It also has a staff that had been hamstrung by Mexican laws that previously gave the government veto power over Pemex investments and created a focus on its role as a cash cow for the government. Pemex funds about a third of government spending. While Pemex is interested in developing its expertise in producing oil and gas from shale-rock formations, it isn't an area that the firm will invest in quickly. Shale projects are best done by "more agile," smaller companies, Mr. Lozoya said. "Pemex won't be a leader in shale gas in the next three years," he said. But Mr. Lozoya left the door open to creating or acquiring a nimble shale subsidiary for exploiting oil and gas, perhaps in a partnership with a private firm. He also said Pemex is open to doing joint ventures with U.S. companies involved in producing shale gas in the U.S. to gain experience. In the past, Pemex was burdened by the costs of unprofitable projects that the company carried out because the projects were deemed necessary for reasons of national development policy. That has now changed. "Our objective is to make money," said Mr. Lozoya. Under laws signed this week by President Enrique Peña Nieto, Pemex will have more autonomy over its budget and can work with private companies. Mr. Lozoya said the changes would enable the company to cut costs in many areas. Pemex, for example, now can work with private companies to build pipelines. That will result in huge savings for the company, which has been forced to truck some of its crude and refined products because of a lack of infrastructure, he said. José de Córdoba in Mexico City and Daniel Gilbert in Houston contributed to this article. Write to Laurence Iliff at laurence.iliff@wsj.com and Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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