China gets jump on U.S. for Brazil’s oil

Two export pacts a coup for Beijing

BUENOS AIRES — Off the coast of Rio de Janeiro — below a mile of water and two miles of shifting rock, sand and salt — is an ultradeep sea of oil that could turn Brazil into the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, behind Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The country’s state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, expects to pump 4.9 million barrels a day from the country’s oil fields by 2020, with 40 percent of that coming from the seabed. One and a half million barrels will be bound for export markets.

The United States wants it, but China is getting it.

Less than a month after President Obama visited Brazil in March to make a pitch for oil, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was off to Beijing to sign oil contracts with two huge state-owned Chinese companies.

The deals are part of a growing oil relationship between the two countries that, thanks to a series of billion-dollar agreements, is giving China greater influence over Brazil’s oil frontier.

Chinese oil companies are pushing to meet mandatory expansion targets by inking deals across Africa and Latin America, but they are especially interested in Brazil.

“With the Lula and Carioca discoveries alone, Brazil added a possible 38 billion barrels of estimated recoverable oil,” said Luis Giusti, a former president of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, referring to the new Brazilian oil fields.

“That immediately changed the picture,” he said, adding that Brazil is on track to become “an oil giant.”

During Mrs. Rousseff’s visit to China, Brazil’s Petrobras signed a technology cooperation deal with the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec.

Petrobras also signed a memorandum of understanding with Sinochem, a massive state-owned company with interests in energy, real estate and agrichemicals.

The Sinochem deal aims to identify and build “business opportunities in the fields of exploration and production, oil commercialization and mature oil-field recovery,” according to Petrobras.

The relationship with China goes back to at least two years before Mr. Obama came to Brazil to applaud the oil discovery and tell Mrs. Rouseff:

“We want to work with you. We want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and, when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers.”

China rescued Petrobras in 2009, when the oil company was looking at tight credit markets to finance a record-setting $224 billion investment plan. China’s national development bank offered a $10 billion loan on the condition that Petrobras ship oil to China for 10 years.

A chunk of Brazil’s oil real estate appeared on China’s portfolio in 2010, when Sinopec agreed to pay $7.1 billion for 40 percent of Repsol-YPF of Brazil, which has stakes in the now internationally famous Santos Basin, and the Sapinhoa field, which has an estimated recoverable volume of 2.1 billion barrels. Statoil of Norway also agreed that year to sell 40 percent of the offshore Peregrino field to Sinochem.

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