A month after BP plc launched a $7.8 billion strategic stock swap with Russia's state-controlled oil company, the London-based major late Monday agreed to invest a near-equal amount into Reliance Industries Ltd., India's largest energy producer and flagship of the country's largest private-sector enterprise.

The $7.2 billion cash deal with Reliance, which is said to be the largest ever in India's private sector, would give BP access to explore India's deepwater and allow the oil major to invest in the country's emerging onshore gas pipeline infrastructure, under terms of the agreement. The transaction follows one announced in January between BP and Russia's OAO Rosneft to swap stock and jointly explore Russia's Arctic region (see Daily GPI, Jan. 18).

The move also signals BP's intentions to follow a strategy that mirrors its latest internal predictions, issued last month, which suggest that global energy use will rise by almost 40% by 2030, led by demand from four major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China -- also referred to as "BRICs" (see Daily GPI, Jan. 21).

"This partnership will help unlock the huge potential of India's vast but under-explored acreages," said Mukesh Ambani, who helms Reliance. He chose BP because it is "one of the finest deepwater exploration companies in the world." BP's technical expertise also will accelerate exploration, he added.

Ambani and BP CEO Bob Dudley held a signing ceremony in London to announce the transaction. The investment, said Dudley, doesn't signal BP's withdrawal from the United States.

"We're fully committed to the U.S.," Dudley told reporters. "This is part of the shift in energy demand across the globe." BP still has $8 billion of assets to sell after $22 billion of divestitures following the Macondo well blowout last year in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

"India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world," said the BP CEO. "By allying ourselves with Reliance, we will access the most prolific gas basin in India and secure a place in the fast-growing Indian gas markets, creating a genuinely distinctive BP position."

Under terms of the agreement BP would acquire a 30% stake in 23 blocks offshore India, as well as form a joint venture with Reliance to market natural gas. The offshore blocks together span an area of 270,000 square kilometers, which is similar in scale to the North Sea. Nineteen of the blocks lie off India's eastern coast in water between 400 meters and 3,000 meters deep. Together they produce about 1.8 Bcf/d, which is more than 40% of India's total gas output.

Reliance would continue to act as operator; BP would explore for new resources, sharing technology and expertise.

In addition to offshore access the transaction would give BP the right to help develop gas pipeline infrastructure in India. Future performance payments and investment could increase the size of the transaction to $20 billion, according to BP.

"The game-changing moves announced with Rosneft and Reliance this year, in addition to other positive exploration access exposure, give us confidence that BP is moving on from Macondo," wrote Jason Kenney, who heads oil and gas research for ING Wholesale Banking.

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