From Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Norway’s Equinor ASA and other oil majors bet big on pre-salt blocks in Brazil on Thursday, grabbing stakes in some of the world’s most alluring offshore geology despite renewed concerns about political meddling in the country’s energy sector.

A consortium of Equinor, Exxon Mobil Corp and Petroleos de Portugal made the most aggressive play of the round, offering more than three times the minimum bid for the Uirapuru block in the Santos Basin off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

That meant partnering with Brazil’s state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, which joined all three winning consortia in the round.

Unexpected changes to diesel pricing in Brazil last month raised questions about renewed political interference at Petrobras and triggered the surprise exit of Chief Executive Pedro Parente, who had turned the company around.

Yet Thursday’s aggressive bidding, including successful offers from Chevron Corp, BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, highlighted enduring appetite for Brazil’s offshore despite any meddling in Petrobras’ downstream business.

“We didn’t really make a connection with the fuel prices and the bidding rounds. It is quite an independent process,” said Anders Opedal, country manager for Equinor, which changed its name from Statoil last month.

“We have made investments that will take us beyond 2050 in Brazil. So we are actually married to Brazil,” he added.

Equinor, Exxon, Petroleos de Portugal and Petrobras won the Uirapuru block by offering the government 75.49 percent of oil after covering costs – well above the minimum bid of 22.18 percent.

The Uirapuru block is close to the North Carcara area which the same consortium clinched in an October round. Opedal said it was too soon to say if the blocks would be developed jointly.

Equinor also won the rights to develop the Dois Irmaos block of the Campos Basin, along with BP and Petrobras.

Until late last year, Exxon was one of the few oil majors without stakes in Brazil’s world class pre-salt geology. With its Thursday win, it has now grabbed stakes in 25 Brazilian blocks, up from just two at the start of last year.

The most enticing exploration opportunities in Brazil, South America’s top producer, are in offshore blocks known as the pre-salt layer, where billions of barrels of oil are trapped beneath a thick layer of salt under the ocean floor.

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