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Italy's Eni Said to be Interested in Unocal

Interest in Unocal Corp. appears to be growing, with yet another oil major rumored to be in the hunt, sources told the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported last week that Eni SpA, headquartered in Rome, Italy, is "taking a hard look" at bidding for the El Segundo, CA-based producer.

The rumor comes just a few weeks after rumors surfaced that ChevronTexaco Corp. was considering a bid for Unocal (see NGI, March 7). Earlier this year, China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), a state-owned company, also was said to be interested.

Unocal has made no comment on the possible suitors, although the apparent interest from larger producers has sent its share price up about 15% this month. Unocal's market value is said to be about $16 billion; Eni is worth an estimated $100 billion.

Eni, which is 30% owned by the Italian government, "has yet to decide on a formal offer, and could choose to remain out of the fray," the Journal reported. However, another source told the newspaper that the possible bid for Unocal was "still Chevron's to lose."

Earlier this month, Sempra Energy's liquefied natural gas (LNG) unit announced a nonbinding "Heads of Agreement (HOA)" with Eni, for a 20-year deal for one-third of the throughput at the Sempra LNG Cameron receiving terminal now under development near Lake Charles, LA (see NGI, March 14). Sempra said it expects to finalize a "definitive" terminal services agreement by mid-year.

Eni, the world's sixth largest publicly traded oil and gas producer by market value, is said to be interested in building a larger LNG market in the United States. It already produces LNG in Nigeria and North Africa. Eni's major assets are located in Africa, the Middle East and in some parts of the former Soviet Union.

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