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ExxonMobil plans retreat from North Sea oil

After almost 50 years of participating in the North Sea oil industry, oil major ExxonMobil is looking to sell its stake in 40 or so North Sea oil fields. The sale is expected to be worth around $2 billion (about £1.6 billion at current exchange rates).

ExxonMobil, which makes lubricants for Mobil UK stockists, was one of the first players to get involved in North Sea oil exploration in 1964 through its subsidiary Esso Exploration and Production UK Limited. The company soon decided to pool its expertise with Shell and share the risks and rewards in a 50/50 joint venture. The two companies signed an agreement in 1965 in which Shell was given responsibility for operating most of the fields, an agreement that continues to this day for many fields.

ExxonMobil will be the third big US energy company to leave the North Sea (after Chevron and ConocoPhillips), with them seeming to prefer to focus on growing their US shale operations to achieve quicker returns.

There seems to be no shortage of buyers, however. ConocoPhillips, for example, sold its North Sea fields to Chrysaor, which is based in Aberdeen, for $2.67 billion in April. A number of parties are rumoured to be in talks with ExxonMobil over the sale, including Ithaca Energy of Israel and Petrogas of Oman. Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is also rumoured to be interested in purchasing the fields to secure a hydrocarbon supply for his Ineos chemical business, specifically for the refinery in Scotland.

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