* Iraq says received "positive signals" from CNPC, Lukoil
* Exxon opens virtual data room for West Qurna 1 oilfield
* Company invites bids by Dec. 5
BAGHDAD, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Iraq would favour bids by
Russia's Lukoil and China's CNPC if they decided to
buy Exxon Mobil's stake in the super-giant West Qurna-1
oilfield, a senior oil ministry official said on Friday.
A sale of the stake to either company would significantly
strengthen the position of Russia or China in exploiting Iraq's
oil reserves, the world's fourth biggest.
"During two separate meetings with executives from CNPC and
Lukoil, Iraq informed the companies that it favours their
contribution to purchase Exxon's share in West Qurna-1
oilfield," the official told Reuters.
Baghdad said it had received "positive signals" from both
companies that they will consider making an offer for the $50
billion project, which Exxon wants to pull out of to focus on
its deal for exploration blocks in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish
Exxon riled Baghdad by signing deals last year with the
Kurdistan regional government (KRG). Baghdad rejects contracts
granted by the KRG as illegal and told Exxon it had to choose
between working in southern Iraq or Kurdistan in the north.
The U.S. oil major opted to stick with Kurdistan, where the
contracts are seen as more lucrative.
"We have received positive signals from both CNPC and Lukoil
that they will consider purchasing Exxon's stake in West
Qurna-1," said the official on condition of anonymity.
"Iraq believes that both companies have enough financial
resources and the technology to manage the giant oilfield
instead of Exxon Mobil," he added.
DATA ROOM OPENED
Exxon has now opened a virtual data room for West Qurna-1
and approached all likely buyers, inviting bids by Dec. 5, two
Lukoil, Russia's second-largest crude producer which is
already developing West Qurna-2, had previously said West
Qurna-1 was "too big for it to swallow", but last week said it
was looking into the option.
That has prompted some speculation it could team up with
another company, possibly CNPC, to develop the field.
A spokesman for Lukoil confirmed the company had received an
offer to develop West Qurna 1: "We are studying it," he said,
declining to comment on whether a joint venture was on the
Lukoil is trying to offset a production decline at its
fields in Russia, where it faces competition from state-backed
companies, by acquiring foreign upstream assets.
The company is active in the Middle East, Central Asia, West
Africa and Latin America. But Russia's vast Arctic offshore
reserves are off-limits for Lukoil due to legal restrictions
that limit participation to state-controlled companies.
Two CNPC sources said the company was aware of Exxon's plan
to pull out of the West Qurna 1 project, but declined to confirm
or deny reports it was thinking of moving into the field.
In general, they said, CNPC is interested in expanding its
operations in Iraq and will not entertain any projects in the
Kurdish region so as not to jeopardise its existing deals with
the federal government.
A spokesman of the state-owned China National Petroleum
Corp. declined to comment on its plans.
Earlier this week, Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy,
Hussein al-Shahristani, said the government was in advanced
talks with potential buyers to take on West Qurna and that there
were enough appropriate candidates.