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ExxonMobil's Exploration Plan Threatened by Russian Sanctions

In its constant quest to find new oil reserves, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) is going to the ends of the earth, quite literally.

Right now ExxonMobil is in the process of transporting an oil rig from Norway to the Russian arctic. The rig, named West Alpha, is owned by North Atlantic Drilling (NYSE: NADL  ) .

According to North Atlantic Drilling's latest fleet update, the West Alpha was built during 1986 and is under contract with ExxonMobil until July 2016, with an option for Exxon to extend the rig's contract for an extra year to July 2017. Exxon is currently paying $535,000 per day for the rig. This day rate is set to hit $547,000 if the company chooses to extend the contract.

Running into problems
ExxonMobil, and its partner, Russian oil and gas giant Rosneft, are hoping to make a significant discovery within the Kara Sea. Unfortunately, the beginning of this voyage has been marred by the sanctions recently slapped on Russia, due to the country's involvement in the violence within Ukraine.

There are many problems with this voyage. The most recent set of sanctions is supposed to prevent Russian companies, Rosneft especially, from raising debt and equity from international companies. The Exxon-Rosneft deal will see Exxon and Rosneft jointly funding the development of the exploration program.

Reuters contacted ExxonMobil about the effect that the sanctions will have on the company's business. Exxon replied that:

"We are evaluating the impact of the sanctions and don't have anything further at this time."

Lots to lose
So far, only a few months into the joint venture, it would be pretty silly for ExxonMobil to make a sudden move and cancel the venture. However, if the U.S. and its allies decide to press further sanctions on Russia, this joint venture could come under threat.

Drilling is slated to start during the third quarter of this year. Right now, the rig's operators have stated that they are currently preparing to drill and will assess the situation as they progress.

There are three parties depending upon the success of this joint venture: ExxonMobil obviously, North Atlantic Drilling, and the Kremlin. Indeed, president Putin will not want to damage his goal of increasing oil revenues for Russia as oil income is becoming an increasingly important part of Russia's economy.

If the venture falls apart, all three parties stand to lose out. Actually, the Kremlin stands to lose the most as the Russian government will not only lose income from the prospective discovery, but it is also a major shareholder in Rosneft. It's estimated that the Exxon-Rosneft joint venture will see the two companies invest a total of $500 billion over several years.

The bottom line
The commencement of the Exxon-Rosneft joint venture could not come at a worse time for the two companies. Russia's actions within Ukraine and subsequent sanctions have thrown the venture and $500 billion of investment into doubt. Only time will tell if the risk will pay off.  

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  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2014, at 10:49 AM, awallejr wrote:

    The company that can get hurt the most would be XOM should further sanctions be imposed. Rosneft can and probably would continue with the drilling on their own. They have China as the source for funding.

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Rupert Hargreaves

Rupert has been writing for the Motley Fool since December 2012. He primarily covers tobacco and resource companies with a passion for value-oriented investments. .

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