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TNK-BP sells stake in giant Siberian gas field to Gazprom -1

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British oil major BP Plc's Russian venture, TNK-BP [RTS: TNBP], will sell its controlling stake in a vast Siberian natural gas field to state-controlled energy giant Gazprom [RTS: GAZP], the companies said Friday.
(Recasts, adds details, quotes, background in paras 2, 5-12)

MOSCOW, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - British oil major BP Plc's Russian venture, TNK-BP [RTS: TNBP], will sell its controlling stake in a vast Siberian natural gas field to state-controlled energy giant Gazprom [RTS: GAZP], the companies said Friday.

The sale of a 62.9% stake in the Kovykta field comes after months of pressure from Russian regulators, and its price tag is considered by analysts to be well below the deposit's market value.

The Russian gas monopoly will acquire the stake in Rusia-Petroleum, owned by Anglo-Russian joint venture TNK-BP, which holds the license for the Kovykta field development, and a 50% stake in a smaller East Siberian company constructing gasification facilities, for $700-$900 million.

The sides will agree on an exact price in three months. BP, TNK-BP and Gazprom also agreed to form a strategic alliance to invest at least $3 billion in oil and gas projects in Russia.

Under the deal, TNK-BP retains an option to buy a 25% stake plus one share at an "independently verified market price" in the East Siberian gas field, a top manager of the company said.

TNK-BP's managing director, Viktor Vekselberg, said at a Kremlin meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and officials from BP and Gazprom that the option could be increased.

The British oil major said it was satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations. BP CEO Tony Hayward said in a statement: "This historic agreement lays the ground for powerful co-operation between BP, TNK-BP and Gazprom."

However, analysts viewed the deal as a face-saving agreement for BP, reminiscent of Shell's sale of a controlling stake in the Sakhalin II oil and gas field off Russia's Pacific coast last year, also for a knock-down price.

Viktor Vekselberg said he admired "the talent and professionalism of Gazprom management" in organizing the negotiations.

In the lead-up to the deal, environmental and licensing authorities complained that the company operating the Kovykta field was not meeting production targets, and repeatedly threatened to withdraw Rusia Petroleum's license. The license issuer, the Federal Agency for Subsoil Use, said earlier in June it had postponed for two weeks a decision on revoking the license over the company's underproduction.

In late May, the natural resources ministry launched a repeat check into the deposit after Rusia Petroleum failed to correct previous license violations. The ministry said the license was bound to be withdrawn, and that it could be offered for competitive bidding at the government's discretion.

However, license revocation threats were repeatedly put off, and Russian business daily Kommersant quoted industry analysts as saying the fate of the license hinged on negotiations between TNK-BP and Gazprom, ongoing since last year.

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