Nigeria Presses Exxon On Leases

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Nigeria, the OPEC member that vies with Angola for the top spot among Africa's oil producing countries, said today that Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil company, has until Thursday to make a decision on three oil-drilling leases in the Niger Delta. Exxon maintains it has already been granted licenses for the exploration blocks.

The company claims it signed agreements in 2009 with the Nigerian government for the long-term renewal of licenses OML 67, 68 and 70, which it operates as part of a joint venture with state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., Reuters reported. The government gave Exxon a week to decide on the leases and that week ends on Thursday.

Texas-based Exxon (XOM) said that while it plans to vigorously defend the lease rights it acquired in 2009, it will work with the Nigerian government to alleviate confusion on the matter. The exploration areas that are part of the dispute are in shallow water and have a combined capacity of more than 500,000 barrels per day, according to Reuters.

Nigeria's government has had similar difficulties in the past regarding expired drilling licenses. Leases with Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A), the Western oil major with the largest Nigerian footprint, and Chevron (CVX), the second-largest U.S. oil company, have lapsed as a result.