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Still-controversial BP (NYSE: BP ) began the year by announcing a significant deal in Russia, only to be thwarted by its involvement in a historically contentious joint venture with a handful of Russian billionaires. But despite the strained relationship between the partners, the venture itself is actively spreading its wings well beyond its base.
BP, which will end up paying tens of billions of dollars for last year's Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, commenced its 2011 healing effort by attempting to move beyond the horror of 2010 through an unusual deal with Russia's OAO Rosneft oil giant. Under its terms, the two companies would each buy a stake in the other for a total of about $16 billion. That exchange would precede a joint exploration of the promising Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic by the pair.
However, the Russian oligarchs who own the other half of TNK-BP, a sizable oil company in its own right, put the kibosh on the deal. The group, known as AAR, maintained that the BP-Rosneft deal violated the terms of their TNK-BP 50-50 joint venture -- a contention which they took before a British court, where they prevailed. Despite numerous subsequent rounds of negotiations among the parties, it's now unlikely -- although not impossible -- that BP will be able to revive its Rosneft deal.
Rather, it's probable that another company, perhaps Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B ) , Total (NYSE: TOT ) , or Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , will be substituted to provide the technical expertise needed to facilitate working in the challenging offshore Arctic. Indeed, Rosneft -- which has been linking up with major companies, including a new partnership with ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) to explore the Black Sea -- has a stated intention to have a new partner in place for work in the Kara Sea by year end.
For its part, TNK-BP is faring quite well. While its operations have traditionally been limited to Russia and Ukraine -- a factor in the 2008 ouster of BP CEO Bob Dudley from the same post at the venture -- it is now fulfilling the oligarchs' desire to move farther afield internationally. As a result, it has recently completed the acquisition of assets from BP in Venezuela and Vietnam.
And as last week ended, the company announced that it would likely buy a 45% stake in an oil and gas deposit in Brazil's Solimoes region from Petra Energia SA, for what is thought to be about $1 billion. The blocks cover 48,500 square kilometers and are said to contain 542 million barrels of oil equivalent, 84% of which is natural gas. And while it's on a South American shopping spree, TNK-BP just may raise its new 17% share of Venezuela's Petromonagas to 40%.
Confusion about BP's direction has been partially responsible for the company's shares giving up some ground of late. My inclination is to treat the company as "temporarily closed for repairs." But I'll be monitoring it closely on my watchlist.