Deep Water, Deep Pockets

What was remarkable about the most recent lease sale in the Western Gulf of Mexico? Not the number of blocks receiving bids, nor the total dollar volume of winning bids. It was the lopsided nature of the bidding, which showed Norwegian heavyweight Statoil (NYSE: STO  ) to be by far the most eager to tackle the lower tertiary. That's the geologic formation way out in the deep water that has been estimated to contain anywhere from 3 billion to 15 billion barrels of oil.

Statoil, which placed $139 million in winning bids, didn't just open fire in a scattershot manner. Compared to BP's (NYSE: BP  ) 91 high bids, Statoil's 36 looks more like a surgical strike. Statoil concentrated its firepower and outbid other firms for its top targets by a vast margin.

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  ) operates the Great White prospect in Alaminos Canyon and owns several blocks in the play. It bid a not-inconsiderable sum of $8.6 million for AC810, a neighboring block. Shell got totally blindsided here, as Statoil concentrated a great deal of its firepower on several blocks immediately west of Shell's position. All in all, Statoil spent more than half its total outlay on the seven blocks it won, and more than 25% on AC810 alone.

Statoil was outbid on some blocks by Norsk Hydro (NYSE: NHY  ) , which will soon become part of the Norwegian leviathan. I've written before about Statoil positioning itself as an offshore dynamo, and its resolve to land key acreage in the Gulf of Mexico reinforces that notion.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Norsk Hydro is aMotley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has serious firepower.


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